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With the goal of inclusivity and creating normal lives for people with disabilities, The Arc of Colorado strives to help people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) be included in their communities.
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The Arc has 15 chapters in the state of Colorado that cover the state, and they are all independent nonprofits funded by Arc Thrift Stores. There are 30 Arc Thrift Stores across the state, and Arc is the largest company employing disabled people in Colorado.
Luke Wheeland is the director of community outreach, education and communications for The Arc of Arapahoe and Douglas Counties. He explained how the money from the thrift stores translates into services for those with disabilities.
“That funding allows advocacy for people with I/DD for their lifecycle, from birth to death, for free,” Wheeland said.
Lynn Meyer started seeking services with The Arc when her son, David, was in grade school. David is now 39 and has Down syndrome. They live in Greenwood Village in Arapahoe County.
Meyer described David as “a pretty typical human being,” who loves sports, video games, movies and hanging out with his friends. He has worked at King Sooper’s for over 21 years. David is mostly non-verbal, so once he turned 18, Meyer pursued a guardianship to help make decisions for him.
Meyer said that while now she knows about many resources, she recognizes that some of the information can be hard to process alone.
“There are so many resources out there, but you’ve got to have a point of contact who knows both the resources and what your family may need,” she said.
That’s where programs like The Arc come in. They helped with IEP navigation in school, paperwork and offered many social groups for David.
“It’s really been the folks at The Arc who have helped at the school, who have helped with these fights with Medicaid, who have helped interpret what the state is saying in regards to David’s benefits,” Meyer said.
Meyer sees the value in services that The Arc provides, not only for people like David, but for those with invisible disabilities. She said she has a daughter with invisible disabilities, but without obvious physical indicators, she often gets overlooked.
“Some disabilities are just as challenging, but not obvious,” Meyer said.
Other people with disabilities access The Arc later in life, and have different paths in the program.
Roxy, 19, who asked to be identified by her first name only, has Prader-Willi syndrome, a rare disorder which affects her appetite. She and her family live near Castle Rock in Douglas County. As her mom, Charlotte, describes it, without supervision, Roxy could eat herself to death.
Growing up, Roxy had an IEP in school but otherwise did not have a lot of intervention. When Roxy was a junior thinking about life after highschool, Charlotte began to look for resources.
“Junior year came along, and all of a sudden I got really anxious,” Charlotte said.
The family found a class at The Arc called “step up into life after high school,” and got some valuable advice to move forward. The program emphasized that now Roxy was an adult, and her opinions and desires should be prioritized.
Roxy graduated high school in 2020, and decided she wanted to study nursing. She attended junior college for a little over a semester, but was unable to control herself around food, leading to health problems.
Back at home now, Roxy is adjusting to online classes. She has plans for her future, and they involve pursuing more of her passions.
“Become a nurse, do more dancing and theater,” Roxy said.
Roxy loves animals and enjoys playing games like poker and chess. She has advice for other people with disabilities:
“Do what they wanna do, and do things they like to do,” she said.
The Arc has helped Roxy get a Supported Living Services or SLS waiver through Medicaid, which provides services like funding for participating in certain community groups, which includes a theater program for Roxy.
The Arc supports anyone with an I/DD, and any child with an IEP or 504 plan. The group centers itself around three types of advocacy: systems advocacy, which includes legislation, bills, finances and navigating the system, child advocacy, which supports the special education system, and adult advocacy, to help adults with disabilities navigate employment, apply for benefits, find housing, transport and more.
While The Arc serves people with I/DD, it never shies away from helping people with other disabilities. With a great network of resources, their staff can help connect people with the right services.
“If families don’t know where to turn, they can turn to any Arc chapter,” Wheeland said. “We never leave people hanging.”
Beyond just advocacy services, The Arc works to create a community that is for everyone; with or without disabilities. The branches offer events like Oscar watching parties, craft/paint nights, game nights and more. During peak times of COVID-19, The Arc offered online programs like trivia, where people all over the country could tune in to play.
If you or someone you know has an I/DD and would like to find out more about The Arc of Colorado, visit thearcofco.org.
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