By Todd Cohen
RALEIGH, N.C. — Getting through a typical day can be a challenge for individuals with developmental disabilities — or one in 40 North Carolinians, by rough estimates, and possibly a lot more.
Depending on the nature and extent of their disabilities, they can find it difficult to get out of bed, get dressed, shop for food, get to work and even do their job if they are employed, or make decisions about their health, money and housing.
Working to provide support for people with disabilities is The Arc of North Carolina, an affiliated chapter of The Arc of the United States that also supports 25 local chapters throughout the state.
Local chapters provide services to individuals with disabilities, or serve as advocates, or both, while the statewide group works to support local chapters and does not compete with them, says John Nash, its executive director.
“Where services are not available, we provide some direct service,” he says.
Operating with an annual budget of $16 million and a staff of 700 people, and generating 80 percent of its funds through Medicaid, The Arc serves 3,000 to 4,000 individuals a year and works as an advocate on disabilities issues.
In addition to its Raleigh headquarters, it operates offices in Asheville, Charlotte, Greensboro and Wilmington, as well as small satellite offices in Greenville, New Bern and Southern Pines.
It works to connect individuals with disabilities to services that range from finding physicians or housing or, through a separate purchasing agency, with medical equipment such as wheelchairs and hospital beds.
It connects individuals with disabilities with people — either independent contractors or its own employees — who can provide 24-hour support for individuals with disabilities.
Assigned by clerks of court, it serves as a guardian for individuals with disabilities, and works with an agency that provides them with trust and financial services.
It supports employment for people with disabilities, assessing their skills and job goals, helping them prepare for and find jobs, and providing job coaches in the workplace if needed.
And it connects people with housing and owns 485 properties throughout the state that house about 2,400 individuals, contracting with other organizations to manage the properties or provide support services for the tenants.
The Arc also works as a lobbyist in the state General Assembly. In this year’s session, it helped lobby for a law that now allows people with disabilities to use “529” savings accounts to save up to $100,000 without affecting their Social Security, Medicaid and other benefits that support their disabilities services.
And it supports legislation, approved by the N.C. Senate but still pending in the N.C House of Representatives, that would provide insurance coverage of services for people with autism.
In addition to Medicaid funding, The Arc receives funds from the state and revenue from the low-income housing it owns, including rent from tenants and federal and state rent subsidies.
The Arc also is gearing up to generate private support, initially through partnerships with corporations, and within a year aims to launch an effort to raise money from individuals, Nash says.
Lisa Berwyn, former director of membership services and operations for the North Carolina Business Committee for Education in the Office of the Governor, joined The Arc in August as its first director of business development.
“Our goal is to help connect The Arc and people with disabilities across the state with corporations,” says Nash, “helping us move our mission forward in our advocacy efforts.”