By Rachel Baker
Our community of Midland, Michigan, is a community that works hard to create inclusive opportunities for everyone. This past January, The Arc of Midland received a grant to organize and execute our first MLK Day of Service project. With the help of over 175 volunteers, we packaged and delivered food to over 1,000 people on one of the coldest days of the year.
The 175+ volunteers braved the cold to help direct traffic and deliver food. One man, Tom, came to receive food and ended up volunteering the entire day!
“I had no intentions of staying to help, but once I saw everyone working together to help people like me, I had to stay and be a part of giving back to the community that was giving to me.”
The Arc of Midland is lucky to be widely supported by many businesses, clubs, and organizations in our community that pitched in on this effort. The Great Lakes Loons (a local Minor League Baseball team) played host to the chapter’s Day of Service event. Not only does the team provide a safe, accessible, and welcoming environment for everyone to enjoy, but they also employ many people with disabilities throughout the year.
Another crucial partner was Hidden Harvest. Since 2016, we have partnered together through a variety of programs and projects—including a free pantry stocked weekly and supporting the community together when a fire ravaged an apartment complex where many people with disabilities and seniors lived. During this year’s MLK Day event, they provided food assistance, transportation, volunteers, and logistics for packaging of the food.
The Arc of Midland’s MLK Day work brought thousands of people together in service to build a stronger community. Together, every partnering organization, volunteer, and person receiving assistance honored Martin Luther King Jr. and his vision of belonging.
In 2019, 37 states still have institutions where people with intellectual and developmental (I/DD) live away from their families and communities. Some may recall the horrible investigative reports over the last few decades that showed the terrible conditions in institutions, but many people fail to realize the facilities still exist and that state and federal dollars are still funding them. The Arc of the United States was founded by families trying to eliminate the need for those institutions and to get their family members with disabilities back home and included in their communities. While we have come a long way, there remains much to be done from state capitals to our nation’s capital.
The Arc developed this video to highlight the issue and to educate the general public about institutions, and to urge action to close the remaining institutions and support people with disabilities, no matter their level of need, back into the community.
At The Arc we also understand that it is more important than ever that we educate the general public about why inclusion and acceptance matters and that they join the fight to ensure that the progress that we have made as a disability community is not stalled.
We have to talk about the fact that institutions remain open, and how those dollars would be better spent in the community. We have to educate the general public about how Medicaid makes life in the community possible. We have to protect Medicaid from threats of cuts and caps that would drastically hurt people with I/DD.
To illustrate community living, check out our new video.
On the policy front, we have to talk to state and federal legislators about the fact that the federal Medicaid law that we fought so hard to save just a few years ago needs a face lift. Right now, services in institutions, nursing homes and other more segregated settings are mandatory while home and community-based services (HCBS) are optional under the law.
These are complex issues, but the basic fact remains everybody benefits when people with disabilities are part of the fabric of their communities. That doesn’t come by keeping people locked away in institutions – it comes through conversation, inclusion and acceptance that we are all better together.
Building an inclusive volunteering community can be stressful, but it is often incredibly rewarding as well! This year, we asked Erica Delma from Holly Ridge Center to share her journey as a grantee of The Arc’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service project through a letter to herself. She spoke about finding meaningful work for her clients, the partnerships that blossomed because of volunteering, and the spirit of helping others that has lasted long after the events are over.
Dear 2018 Erica,
I know that the last few months since you applied for the MLK grant have been a roller coaster of emotions. As Development Director of Holly Ridge Center, you are responsible for attracting, growing, and stewarding resources to further the important work the Center does in our community. When the opportunity presented itself to apply for funding to develop inclusive volunteer programs, you thought it was a great match for the Center’s focus on inclusivity and finding people with autism meaningful places in the community. When you realized the focus would be on addressing food insecurity, an issue that you have been passionate about for years, you could not have imagined a better fit. And, one day you got the notice – you got the grant!
I want you know that you are joining a group of people and organizations throughout the country who are equally passionate. And, I want you to know that The Arc staff will be there to help you every day to be successful and navigate challenges.
You will get an opportunity to work with multiple community partners that will blossom into deeper relationships. You will add in even more partnerships with Meals on Wheels, the Kitsap Rescue Mission, and other service organizations.
On MLK Day, you will host a very successful volunteer fair at the Marvin Williams Center. Many people will tell you how eager they are to work with you in the future. The volunteers you support will have more opportunities in the community, and they will be eager and excited to do more and help others.
Thank you for your enthusiasm and energy for connecting the dots to promote inclusivity, volunteerism, the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and addressing food insecurity. There will be work nights and even longer days, but all your hard work will pay off!