“Seeing organizations, community leaders, and people from all walks of life working together to meet the needs of people struggling with very real problems resulting from the pandemic, has been inspiring. “
- Liz Ford
Since 1955, The Arc of the Mid Ohio Valley has provided opportunities for people with disabilities to become fully immersed in their community and to lead rich and fulfilling lives.
The COVID-19 pandemic raised both new challenges – and provided new opportunities - for the Arc and the people who it serves. Executive Director Liz Ford said, “The Arc rapidly evolved to better meet the needs of people with disabilities by providing in-person and virtual training, meetings, and socialization opportunities for all. By making changes, we eliminated a long-standing barrier to participation—that of transportation. Watching those we serve move outside of their comfort zone to embrace new technologies to stay connected, gave us great hope, along with a deeper appreciation for the valuable tools and talents of our self-advocates.”
Ford noted that people whose lives are affected by disabilities are disproportionally impacted during times of high unemployment and that the pandemic’s added health risks accelerated job losses. “PACF offered hope by making connections that increased our training and employment opportunities and expanded the gift of community inclusion,” said Ford.
At the height of COVID, The Arc transformed a former beauty shop into the People First Café. Through PACF’s involvement in an Appalachian Regional Commission Power grant for the SEE program, PACF staffer Marian Clowes introduced Ford to John Glazer of Ohio University. Glazer was able to help The Arc plan for the Café. “John produced an amazing feasibility study that brought us one step closer to our goal,” said Ford “With the volunteer leadership of Della Lyons, grants from the PACF and other community funders, and volunteers from Recovery Point of Parkersburg providing labor, our project culminated in a much needed training site for people with disabilities seeking employment in the food service industry.”
Nearby Parkersburg High School students can walk to the Café to participate in pre-vocational exploration and later experience “hands-on” training, allowing them to gain confidence and successfully acquire future community employment. The People First Café will deliver additional training and employment options for adults through the Arc’s partnerships with SW Resources and Westbrook Health Services, Inc. And, the Café also provides a venue where people with disabilities may sell handmade art work, increasing their income and providing non-traditional employment. Ford said, “Putting ‘People First’ and gaining strength by collaborating with others has brought our organization and our community hope.”
The PACF’s partnership with The Arc over many years has helped to ensure that the organization has resources to maintain and expand its facilities, programs, and services. As Ford notes, “PACF helps us grow our endowment fund, giving us security in knowing that our valuable programs and services can benefit our region’s citizens in perpetuity. The Give Local MOV program matches money raised for our agency and raises awareness of our role and vital services. And we have been fortunate to have a Civic Leaders Fellow assigned to work with The Arc nearly every summer to support our programs. Through all of these services, PACF builds our organization’s capacity and hope.”