Participants in The Arc’s programming go for a morning walk together down Victoria Avenue in Riverside

The Arc of Riverside County has been serving individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities since 1953. The organization works in partnership with the families, legal guardians or conservators of clients to help them achieve their personal goals. They also offer services and support that provide greater opportunities and inclusion in the community, which is often a client’s primary goal for greater fulfillment.

“Typically, the people we serve have limited opportunities to participate in community programs,” the organization’s Executive Director, Erin Stream said. “Being a part of the community is very important to our agency and to most people with disabilities.”

The Arc’s mission to increase the quality of life for the individuals it serves was especially challenging with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, the organization shut down its day programs for what it thought was only going to be a few weeks, but for many participants turned into two years. Even as staff was able to return to the office, many of the vulnerable program participants had to remain in isolation in consideration of their health.

The organization felt it was essential to continue to meet the needs of their clients and had to find unique ways to connect them to community, their friends and their support team. While staff made every effort to visit them from outside their home or on their porch, these visits were brief and could not replace programming, according to Stream.

In answer to this challenge, The Arc created a virtual school and opened it to all 300 participants throughout the county of Riverside. The virtual school introduces clients to new interests and to new friends in other areas of the county. These online opportunities connected people in ways the organization had not experienced in the past.

There are some individuals who are more comfortable in a remote environment, Stream said. Even as the organization has returned to in-person programming, many who have returned still want to participate in the virtual school.

The Arc was fortunate to continue to receive funding from the state budget throughout the pandemic, even as programming changed dramatically, according to Stream. The organization also received support from partners who wanted to assist during the uncertainty.

Recently, The Arc received a grant from the Arbor Fund through the Inland Empire Community Foundation. Donations and grants help the organization provide quality programming, filling the gaps in state funding which has not increased at the same pace as expenses. During the pandemic, grants helped with the purchase of laptops and tablets to send home with program participants. It also helps with the purchase of vehicles, keeping programs effective and efficient.

Providing quality programming can be vital to achieving the personal goals and growth of many of the participants. For some, the goal can be interacting with others and improving their health by taking scheduled walks down Victoria Avenue in Riverside with friends.

“We don’t want anyone to limited on their options and opportunities,” Stream said.

One client had a goal of working for the first time in her life. The Arc was able to help her achieve each benchmark to this goal which included learning to drive and obtaining a license. Staff also assisted her with writing resumes and interviewing. Ultimately, she was able to obtain a steady job and recently was promoted to a supervisor position.

People with developmental disabilities need acceptance and support from their communities, Stream said.

“To feel respected and feel valued in a place where you live enhances your self-worth,” she said. “Our programs are vital to the community.”

More information: https://arcriverside.org/ or 951-275-5344

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