PARKERSBURG - The Arc of the Mid-Ohio Valley is in new offices at 912 Market St., continuing its 50-plus year history of serving children and adults with disabilities.
"We are thrilled with our new offices. We have more space. The level of accessibility for those we serve has increased and we have more visibility being right along the street as well as having the convenience of parking right at the front and back doors," said Christina Smith, executive director.
The nonprofit organization serving children and adults with intellectual, cognitive and related developmental disabilities and their families is one of 700 chapters nationwide. The local agency serves 3,000 families annually in its 10-county region and through statewide coalitions.
Christina Smith, executive director of The Arc of the Mid-Ohio Valley, stands in front of the nonprofit organization’s new headquarters at 912 Market St. in Parkersburg. The Arc has been serving children and adults with disabilities and their families in this area for more than 50 years. (Photo by Pamela Brust)
West Virginia has the highest per-capita rate of disabilities in the U.S.; 26.8 percent of the state's population, or one out of every four West Virginians have a disability.
Tina Tanner, 45, of Parkersburg, has utilized a number of the Arc's services and programs.
"I attend the cooking classes. We learned how to cook healthy foods and make them taste a little better. We learned about health and wellness. I am also in the walking club. We try to meet two times a week and walk. I'm also a member of People First. We work with emergency preparedness, showing people how to help those with a disability in case of an emergency. We also teach people how to be respectful, how to have a respectful relationship and money management," Tanner said.
"Our People First group meets with legislators once a year to try and get legislation to help people with disabilities. I really enjoy coming to the conferences, seeing new faces. I've made a lot of friends, and I enjoy doing the activities, we try to keep busy," Tanner said, noting she also attends some of the social functions sponsored by the Arc, including dances.
The federally funded Birth to Three Program encompasses eight counties.
"The Arc is the regional administrative unit in the state for this program and implements it here. The program identifies children for developmental delays and provides a support system for their families to help those children meet developmental milestones and identify ways to reach their full potential. Services might include physical or speech therapy, nursing services. On any given day, the program serves 250 to 300 children," Smith said.
Arc board member Jill Fox has used services provided by the Birth to Three Program.
"It's an amazing program. We had physical, occupational and speech therapists come to our home. Coming to your home makes it so much easier for the families then trying to take all your other children to a place for his therapy. The therapists were wonderful, and they provided equipment he needed for his therapy," Fox said.
The Arc offers family networking, education, independent living skills, health and wellness programming, disability awareness, advocacy, prevention, socialization and recreation, networking, family supports, opportunities for self-advocacy, assistive technology, as well as information and referral.
Funded through proceeds from two local thrift shops, located at 906 Broadway Ave. in south Parkersburg and 1505 Grand Central Ave. in Vienna, the Arc also relies on grants from the West Virginia Development Disabilities Council, United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley, state, and local sources including private and corporate donations.
"Our agency offers advocacy as well, everything from the legislative level to advocating for families in the schools, communities. We provide information and referral for systems advocacy as well," Smith said. "The Mid-Ohio Valley Down Syndrome Association is housed in our office. We provide information about training, educational opportunities, parent education, and offer TechLink, a program funded through West Virginia Assistive Technology System which helps individuals find assistive technology that allows them to remain independent as long as possible," she said.
The organization offers disabilities awareness training to businesses, organizations, volunteer groups and schools. As part of ongoing awareness efforts, the Arc also provides information on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, including speaking to community groups, child care agencies, teachers and the medical community on the characteristics of FAS, identifying it, and related conditions.
"It's a little known fact that FAS is the No. 1 cause of intellectual disability in the world and it's 100 percent preventable. If women who are pregnant do not drink alcohol, infants cannot develop FAS," she said.
The Arc also offers a bike and helmet safety program. Funding for that program is provided by the Henry Logan Children's Foundation and United Way.
"Over the past 10 years, we have provided more than 4,200 children who have medical cards or CHIPS cards with a free bicycle helmet. We personally make sure each helmet is properly fitted," Smith said. "In the event of a crash or fall, appropriate use of a helmet can reduce brain injury by 88 to 90 percent."
Under direct support of families, the Arc sponsors the Secret Christmas Project, providing Christmas gifts for adults with development and intellectual disabilities who otherwise would not receive Christmas gifts. Last year that program served more than 156 adults.
"We offer scholarships to full and part-time students entering a field where they will be interacting with individuals with developmental disabilities, like teachers, physical therapists," Smith said.
The Arc's six-week summer day program last year served 37 children from 8 to 21 years old.
"Through the summer program, the children go out into the community and interact with age-appropriate peers. They may go to 4-H camp, be involved with Scouts, go to the libraries, swimming. For some parents, the summer camp provides respite they need, and it keeps the kids involved. My kids really enjoy it, they have a great time and it's a safe environment. The Arc makes sure the activities are accessible. It seems like there is always something going on for the kids and they have a great summer," Fox said. "The Arc also does a great job bringing awareness to the community. Wherever the kids go, they go out and talk to people about being respectful, raise awareness in case they've never been around someone with disabilities," she said.
"The Arc assists families with IEP (individual education plan). They go as an advocate with the family. The process can be frustrating, they help you make sure your child gets the services they need," Fox said.
The Arc also provides socialization/recreation through dances, picnics, hayrides and other activities. It also sponsors the People First of the Mid-Ohio Valley Chapter.
"We believe all individuals have the inherent right and ability to speak for themselves if given supports others in the community have, we work to empower those with disabilities to create change to better their lives. We have an extremely active group here," Smith said.