The Arc opens storage shed, continues to expand

Ledyard — The Arc New London County is expanding so much, it needs a storage shed.

The Arc is a nonprofit agency that seeks to provide "equality of opportunity and equality of choice" for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, according to its website. The storage shed, which was unveiled Monday morning in a ribbon-cutting ceremony, will be used by one of the Arc's four microbusinesses — its landscaping crew.

State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, addressed the 40-plus people gathered for the ribbon cutting, applauding those involved with the project.

"Let's set the example not only for our great state, but we can do this throughout the country," Formica said.

In her remarks, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc Kathleen Stauffer recognized that up until the 1970s, students with disabilities weren't welcome in public schools. She viewed the unveiling of the storage shed as an example of the organization's growth.

Stauffer also outlined the Arc's goals, such as becoming a statewide organization and running profitable businesses to the point that the nonprofit would willfully pay taxes.

Following the event, Stauffer said her job has become easier as people have taken notice of its success.

"People want to invest in a winning enterprise," Stauffer said. "Fact is, when we committed to be in partnership for full equality, we understood that that would require an agency-wide commitment to excellence. Once you get a reputation for excellence, it does get easy, but you do have to maintain excellence."

The storage shed is the pet project of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut's Leadership Program, which is meant to equip potential leaders for community endeavors. The leadership class chose this project, back in November of 2017, for a variety of reasons, including that they felt it would have the most striking effect on the community out of all the applications.

"There's 30 people in the (leadership) class and you have to look at, How much money can we reasonably raise? What's our budget?" Jason Bookmiller, one of the project leaders, said. "We looked at half-a-dozen or so applicants. We judged each applicant on ... the impact it would have for that applicant, and then our skillsets as a group. Because we had enough of a mix, we thought we could accomplish this."

Cathy Soper, another project leader, wrote in an email that the "landscape crew has received such positive responses from both commercial establishments and private homeowners that they needed to expand their crew. With that expansion, came the need for a permanent storage facility."

The Leadership Program raised $13,500 for the project. Since the building of the shed only cost $10,000, the extra $3,500 was given to the Arc to use at the organization's discretion. Dominion Energy and Electric Boat were the two most generous donors for the project, contributing $5,000 and $3,000, respectively.

Members of the leadership class hold other jobs and have another year remaining before the program concludes.

In addition to their employment services efforts, the Arc also promotes social awareness, provides in-home support, helps with community integration, and helps with living arrangements.

Beyond landscaping, Arc microbusinesses help train people to work in the culinary, maintenance and agriculture fields.

"Today is a really important step toward proving that what we're doing really needs replicating, that people with IDD really deserve a shot, because look at what people can do when given a chance and a level playing field," Stauffer said.

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