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From the Desk of Dan Burke: Achieving Goals & Dreams through Work

Lifeworks and its affiliate organization, The Arc of South Norfolk, have been heartened by recent headlines reporting an influx of individuals with disabilities being hired into the workforce. The tight economy and low unemployment rate have been encouraging employers to expand their job candidate pools for many types of entry-level and essential positions. Across the country, agencies like Lifeworks and Arc chapters are working with companies as they increase productivity and create an inclusive corporate culture by hiring individuals with disabilities.

The average monthly jobless rate for people with disabilities fell 4.6 percentage points from 2014 to close out 2018 at 8 percent, according to the U.S. Labor Department. This encouraging data point, however, only reflects people with disabilities who are in the workforce but temporarily out of work. Everyone in our profession knows that the rate of all people with disabilities who are not working is as high as 40 percent to 50 percent, and in some areas of the state and country, even higher.

While the job market may be primed for opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including autism, the ability to secure meaningful employment and succeed in the workplace depends upon community-based skill building and job training programs, along with effective job placement support services and strong partnerships with employers. These essential areas of support are provided by over 100 agencies throughout our Commonwealth.

We must communicate to employers and the public alike that inclusion can fuel a strong economy that benefits all of us. The employers that The Arc of South Norfolk and Lifeworks have partnered with over the years have realized tremendous benefits from hiring people with disabilities. These individuals are trained and eager to take on full- or part-time positions and fulfill permanent or temporary assignments. Most become enthusiastic, productive, loyal and dependable members of the staff. Many employers save money on recruiting, placement and training by partnering with programs like ours. Several individuals have been employed by their chosen company for over 30 years. That’s a major accomplishment even by today’s workforce statistics.

Thanks to new assistive technologies and universal design, fewer accommodations may be required to open up workplaces to people with disabilities. The people that Lifeworks and our colleagues support earn minimum wage or above through competitive placement or group-supported jobs. We have ten individuals working at a facility operated by SimpliSafe, the rapidly growing home security company based in Boston. SimpliSafe was recently recognized at the Advocates for Autism Massachusetts’ (AFAM) 15th anniversary celebration in Natick for its commitment to support people with autism. Two Lifeworks individuals opted to transition to work full time for SimpliSafe, transitioning from the support of public benefits to full wages and benefits.

The Arc of South Norfolk provides services for 12 towns and our affiliate Lifeworks’ employment services programs serve individuals from two locations, one in Norwood and the other within Boston city limits, at a newly opened building in West Roxbury. The two organizations share the space to accommodate the Connections Day Habilitation program and our employment services programs. And we have room to grow. By housing both programs under one roof, it is more beneficial to the needs of the individuals and families we serve in Greater Boston.

Inside this newly renovated space in West Roxbury, we are now well equipped to provide a variety of supports for our individuals. The building provides ample space for training rooms, a physical therapy suite, nurse’s station, and a computer lab in addition to increased office and meeting space. And by virtue of its location, we are convenient to the many local companies that have chosen to fuel their growth in part by hiring people with disabilities. For these employers, the undiscovered talent has already been found. It is our mission, and the mission of our fellow agencies, to achieve the goals and dreams of many through work opportunities.

A booming economy should benefit all.

This post was adapted from a piece originally published in The Provider, the newspaper of the Providers’ Council, in observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October.

Families: The Heroes of Our Movement, the Lifeline for the People We Support

A message from the desk of Dan Burke

This past spring, The Arc of South Norfolk saw the passing of an era with the news that our founder and the person who inspired the formation of our agency, Ruth Holman, had died.  It was Ruth who hosted that first meeting of The Arc of South Norfolk at her home in 1954.  From this meeting, a board was formed, an agency was incorporated and, most important, a group of people who shared the common bond of making a better life for their family member with a disability created a community of support.

These heroes have been the founders, leaders and lifeline for our agency and their family members.  Parents, grandparents and siblings are caregivers, guardians, protectors, advocates – but most of all loving family members.  In 2014, when we celebrated our 60th anniversary, our first president, Bill Abel, made a statement that has resonated with many of our staff members: “The True Heroes of our Agency are the Families.”  The Arc strengthens people with disabilities, their parents, family members, and dedicated professionals by connecting them across a local, state and national network of community-based chapters.  The Arc is the nation’s leading advocate for all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families; the Arc of South Norfolk, along with its affiliated agency Lifeworks, are among the premier providers of the supports and services that so many people need and want.

Families inspired The Arc to file the Ricci lawsuit that led to the closure of large institutions for people with I/DD and the creation of a system of community-based services.  Our agency began providing services with an employment program in downtown Norwood in 1973 and opened our first community residence in 1975.  Over the next 44 years, through The Arc and Lifeworks, we have developed a system of supports and services that includes 18 residences, several state-of-the art employment and day programs, individualized residential supports, the Family Support Center, Family Autism Support Center, and Harbor Counseling Center, as well as many other services for over 2,400 people, with over 500 staff between our two agencies.

Families with a need and a common interest founded our Family Autism Center.  Families also inspired our statewide Arc organization to file the Boulet lawsuit to move more than 2,400 people off a waiting list for residential supports.  Lifeworks and The Arc of South Norfolk are especially proud of this because families served at that time by Lifeworks and The Arc, including the Boulet family, were essential in the success of this initiative.  Each of these situations represents what is most inspiring about the important role of families, which began by addressing the needs of specific family members with I/DD, but rapidly expanded to advocacy on behalf of many others.

 Today, we have a wonderful system of talented professionals providing support and care for people with disabilities, yet we still pride ourselves on continuing to provide personalized, individualized support for families.  The Arc offers parent support groups, transition age support groups, a sibling support group, family advisory councils and a wonderful grandparents group.  We offer many evening and weekend social and recreational groups for people of all ages.  The Arc and Lifeworks have always aimed to provide places where people of all ages can receive support that often start with an open door, a friendly smile, and a listening ear.

As we look ahead, families will continue to be instrumental in leading us to address the issues of the future.  Over the next few months, both Lifeworks and The Arc of South Norfolk will undertake a strategic planning process to set the direction of our agencies over the next three to five years.  This process will actively involve all stakeholders including the persons we serve, the staff and our families.  This process will help to outline how our agencies will best position us to meet impending needs.  The challenges are daunting: the workforce crisis, the rising needs and numbers of people on the autism spectrum, the long-term care of people with significant medical issues along with I/DD, and finding employment and residential supports for those in need.

But our history inspires us.  Our challenges of today are no more formidable than those faced by our predecessors over the past 65 years.  We will use their legacy to motivate, guide, and inspire us as we seek to develop answers to these challenges.  Critical to our success is families’ support of our mission in the community – through legislative advocacy, assistance in procuring additional resources, and informing others about the important work we are doing. 

I foresee The Arc and Lifeworks continuing to serve multiple future generations of those with I/DD.  Our ability to build on the effectiveness of our first 65 years will depend on the continuing strong partnership between the persons we serve, their families, and our agencies.

I look forward to working with all of you to achieve these dreams.

Advocacy, Action & Achievement

Advocacy, Action & Achievement

Message from the desk of Dan Burke

Welcome to our newest form of communication, a monthly blog from my desk to all of you.  Our goal is simple- to send a monthly note to all of our stakeholders, a few words providing updates from The Arc and Lifeworks, items that focus on themes important to each agency. This blog also gives us an opportunity to recognize key mission moments that exemplify the great work that goes on every day in our programs. It will be published on our website and the link be distributed through social media and e-mail.   We hope that you will find it informative. 

As you may know, The Arc and Lifeworks are sister organizations, both dedicated to serving the needs of intellectual and developmentally disabled people in our community.  Often, since I serve as the President/ CEO of both agencies, I am asked about the relationship between these agencies, agencies which are separate legal organizations and separate boards but with a long history of collaboration in providing supports to the people we serve.  I look forward to a future blog about our origins, growing from a single parent and volunteer operation in 1954 to, beginning in 1990, two entities providing advocacy and services to our constituents. Over the past 28 years, as these two agencies have grown and evolved, we have maintained a supportive and collaborative relationship.  Now, as new challenges to services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities present themselves, this collaboration has become even more critical, which I will highlight in this blog in coming months. 

Supporters and families of our agencies often ask me how they can help.   I am pleased to inform all of you of a great opportunity to do this and to have fun celebrating our wonderful mission.  The 2019 Arc of South Norfolk/ Lifeworks Gala- Celebrating Advocacy, Action, and Achievements will highlight the collaboration of our two agencies, the persons we support, their families and our staff.   The event is on March 28, 2019 at the Four Points by Sheraton in Norwood.  Juli McDonald of WBZ channel 4 CBS Boston, a Norwood native and member of a family who has been involved in our agency for many years, will host the evening.  We will be honoring Sammi and Doug Robertson of Bailey’s Team for Autism, a wonderful foundation that they started to support organizations and causes like our Autism Law Enforcement Education Coalition, “ALEC”.   For all the details on the event, you can go to https://www.arcsouthnorfolk.org/Gala2019

We hope that you can join us on this great evening.  Many corporate partners who are taking a lead in assisting our mission will be there and we are grateful for their generous sponsorship.  

Our agencies provide many supports to the people we serve that are not funded by state and federal resources.  We pride ourselves on offering state-of-the-art homes, programs and services with many assistive devices, technology resources and accessible items such as lifts, ramps, iPads, etc. which are essential to our services.   Thanks to proceeds from events such as the gala as well as our annual fund and other donations, we are able to provide private assistance to meet the immediate and emergency needs of many of our constituents.  

We look forward to seeing many people on March 28th.   I also anticipate further outreach to all of you through this blog.  Future topics include: workforce challenges in our field, the key role of families especially siblings in supporting the people we serve and more items of interest.  If you have ideas that you would like me to address or would like to reach out to me, I can be reached at dburke@lifeworksma.org.