A Parent’s Vision… An Agency’s Journey

The Arc of Centre County PA, Inc. was founded as a grassroots organization in 1953 by a small group of parents. The Arc has always been sensitive to the impact of terminology on our constituency and thus we have adapted accordingly throughout our existence; the final change came in 1993 when the ARC voted to change its name to “The Arc of Centre County, PA Inc.” consequently eliminating the name as an acronym.

It was in the 1960’s that the youngest, most impressionable of those served began learning in our preschool. The name changed over the decades – Carousel Preschool, Rainbow Preschool, Imagination Station – but the mission was steadfast. These children and their families found support at a time when there was little offered. Since then much has changed and our legislative lobbying and grassroots efforts have been rewarded. While The Arc no longer provides specific preschool services, the agency remains dedicated to promoting the rights of those with a disability. Our services now extend beyond education and focus on integration within the actual home, community and/or employment setting.

It was in 1972 that the doors of our first twenty-four hour supervision group home opened. Now, nearly fifty years later, we are providing state of the art residential programs/community homes in licensed settings all across Centre County. In 1998, The Arc entered uncharted territory by embarking as the first agency to establish a group home with licensed nursing personnel in Centre County. The Arc once again broke new ground in 2013 with the unveiling of Forever Home, a unique program for persons with an Intellectual Disability as well as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. As aging and medical concerns increase, The Arc has stayed committed to its mission- to provide person-centered services which actively support those we serve in the most inclusive environment. In 2016 The Arc transitioned one of its existing residential homes into a program with nursing personnel and since has added two additional community homes medical support. The Arc feels that these programs are a vital safety net for those we serve; enabling our agency to continue to meet increasing medical needs while allowing individuals to remain in their home and community. The Arc’s Residential Services are set apart by focusing on these individualized and specialized programs. We view a Person-Centered approach as imperative when assisting individuals with complex needs to ensure their right to live an integrated community life.

In 2018, The Arc further supplemented its programming by adding Behavioral Support Services. This service supports those residing within The Arc’s community homes but Behavioral Support Services are provided to many others in the community, as well. Behavior Support Services offered by The Arc include ongoing assessment and development of positive approaches to address challenging behavior and support the person to live and work in their community. Person-centered services encompass the development and maintenance of a Behavior Support Plan and its restrictive components, if applicable, monitoring of progress within the plan, as well as skill building and training for the person, their support team, and their family. This supplemental services has allowed our agency to ensure a more holistic approach to behavioral wellness.

Jumping back to 1980, at this time The Arc saw a void which could potentially be filled by growth in employment services. From its inception in 1982 and forward, our employment department has pushed for real work for real wages. The 1990’s saw not only a name change for the department – now Nittany Employment Services (NES)- but also the exciting birth of the ONE program (Opportunity Network for Employment) at The Pennsylvania State University. More time passed and Pennsylvania adopted the Department of Labor’s “Employment First” concept to “facilitate the full inclusion of people with the most significant disabilities in the workplace and community”. This empowered The Arc to embark on a journey to enhance person-centered employment approaches. After 18 months of research, development and intensive training, our latest initiative, Career Discovery, was added to NES’ service offerings in January 2015. The intent of the initiative is to provide employment planning for persons with a disability needing an alternative to the traditional assessments and services offered. Discovery is this alternative vocational assessment; it provides, in a non-traditional, common-sense form, the information needed to determine the strengths, needs and interests of any person with complex life issues. 

Rather than take any job that is available, Career Discovery focuses on the completion of a non-comparative assessment that identifies a person’s interests and abilities so that we assist the individual in seeking the right employment match. A person who is referred for Career Discovery participates in four focus levels: assessment, soft skills, safety skills, and interviewing. These focus levels help The Arc’s Employment Specialist to gain valuable insight into the person and their strengths and allows the individual to gain skills necessary to compete in the job market. After a profile is developed, the job search begins for employment that matches the person’s abilities. An Employment Specialist who is trained in Customized Employment will help identify a job or a portion of a job that an individual can do and assist the employer in adapting the job requirements to meet the skill set of the potential employee. Customized Employment is a joint effort between the Employment Specialist, the potential employee and the potential employer to find an ideal fit for both the employee and the employer. As with any new initiatives, Career Discovery and Customized Employment require intensive training and The Arc employs certified Discovery Facilitators, the vital component which sets Career Discovery apart. We are excited to be embarking on a journey to change philosophies, improve outcomes and align our services with local, state and federal expectations!

As in the beginning, the family remains unforgettable as the milestones are reached. Our Family Support Program began in the 80’s, expanded in the 90’s and empowered families into the new millennium. While The Arc no longer manages the Family Support Services, our AL-CAN Fund can provide individuals and families with support for unfunded needs such as summer camps, classes, vocational training, medical equipment, therapy, structural adaptations and other supports enabling loved ones to persevere and to move forward.