The Arc reaches out to families

FAIRMONT – Since The Arc formed 60 years ago as a group of Minnesota parents of children with disabilities, the organization has almost come full circle.

“It started when there were no services,” said LeeAnn Erickson of The Arc Minnesota Southwest. “It changed the world for people with disabilities.”

But for the past 20 to 25 years, The Arc has not been attracting new members.

“One reason for that could be that there are more services now,” Erickson said. “Two, we have much busier lives. As original members retired, there have been no younger members to fill the void. We’ve been focusing on the People First groups, and through that we have connected with some parents, but we’ve seen more self-advocates that are not with their families.”

However, with both state and federal spending cuts, people with disabilities are usually one of the first to be on the chopping block.

“We are losing services and support due to spending cuts,” Erickson said.

It was parents and families working together who resulted in the development of services and support back when The Arc began, and Erickson said that is what will be needed to avoid taking some big steps backward for people with disabilities.

“Arc Southwest is trying to bring the focus back in, almost like with the original Coke, then they changed it and it didn’t work and they had to bring back Classic Coke. Well, this is like going back to Classic Arc,” she said. “The support still needs to come from the families.”

Meetings for The Arc are held every second Monday of the month. Tonight, a meeting will be at 6 p.m. in the George Room at the Holiday Inn in Fairmont.

“This isn’t just for people or families of people with disabilities, but for their friends as well,” Erickson said. “We also want to work with other people, and find ways to learn and find out more. It’s a networking group for families to come together, discuss what is happening and what we want to see happening.”

Getting familiar with existing programs and other opportunities is one of the goals for member of The Arc.

“There are always grants and opportunities out there, but how do people and families hear about them?” Erickson asked.

Most importantly, The Arc is determined not to lose the ground they’ve gained for the lives and rights of people with disabilities.

“They want to connect with the rest of the community,” Erickson said. “But when they start losing their support services, then they’re back to being confined. … Parents are looking for more opportunities for their kids.”