Growth continues for The Arc's Day Support Program

Contact Reporterhbridges@vagazette.com

When The Arc of Greater Williamsburg launched a Day Support Program for adults with disabilities on March 16, 2016, it was a pilot project, only guaranteed for seven weeks.

Nearly a year later, it's safe to say the program is growing roots.

The program has grown from three days a week to four, from nine clients to 15 and is building partnerships with James City County Parks and Recreation and James River Elementary School.

"This has been really a lovely year," said Pam McGregor, The Arc of Greater Williamsburg's executive director.

On Wednesday morning, 14 participants slathered peanut butter onto pine cones before rolling them in bird seed and hanging them from trees behind James City County Recreation Center as a start to a day filled with learning, productivity and socialization.

The group was happy to be back together after the snow and a broken pipe at Abram Frink Jr. Community Center, the program's usual location, prevented meeting for about a week.

The Arc's Day Support Program grew out of the February closure of EEE Resource Center, which operated a similar day program in Williamsburg.

The Arc has served local adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities for 40 years through mostly evening activities. The day program helps fill the gap in engagement that starts once special education ends, particularly for those without a Medicaid-funded waiver that unlocks access to important services.

Though they pay monthly tuition, the majority of day program clients don't have a waiver, McGregor said.

The current waiting list for the state sits at around 11,000 people.

In a summary of Gov. Terry McAuliffe's proposed budget posted to The Arc of Virginia's policy blog, executive director Jamie Liban wrote there will be "no change in number of people served, but nearly $10 million loss in funding," related to DD (Developmental Disabilities) waiver slots in fiscal year 2018.

"It's so daunting that we just need to do a lot here in our community," McGregor said.

Two instructors, Lisa Steele and Carol Hofmeyer, lead Day Support Program clients in continued education, life-skills activities and vocational training. Assembly, collation, packaging, mailing, you name it, "we're always looking for work," McGregor said.

Once damage from the broken pipe is fixed, the day support program will return to Abram Frink Jr. Community Center, where a guarantee of space for seven weeks turned into a home for the past nine months and counting.

"It is definitely a need in the community, and we do value that very much and want to give them whatever support they need," said Tracy Newsom, inclusion coordinator for James City County Recreation Services.

Newsom said the county is working with The Arc to make the community center a more permanent location for the program. This includes possibility of accommodations to the facility, she said.

The community center shares a location with James River Elementary School, where The Arc's day program clients will soon begin volunteering thanks to an initiative by Julie Cullifer and school principal Michael Stutt.

Cullifer, who serves on the executive board of James River Elementary's PTA, is also the executive director of the local nonprofit, One Child Center for Autism. Though the partnership is still in its planning stages, Cullifer said one goal is to "bridge the inclusion gap."

"We want our students to see adult individuals with disabilities being productive members of society," she said.

Depending on what the planning stage determines, Cullifer hopes to find roles suited to the strengths of Arc participants, whether that be as a reading buddy in the classroom, a helper in the library or something else.

"We want the Arc clients to feel successful," she said. "We want them to feel that they are part of James River, and they can be a help to the school and be a help in a significant way."

Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.

For more information

About the Day Support Program or to contact The Arc of Greater Williamsburg, visit thearcgw.org or call 757-229-3535.

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