Leo’s Letter: 30 Years On: Learning From History To Address The Current Service Crisis

I’m lucky. Even during COVID and after thirty years, I so appreciate serving at The Arc of Massachusetts, due to our significant mission, and the wonderful colleagues throughout the decades. I gratefully nod at the staff and volunteers who welcomed me in those early days, and although I’ll mention just a few, they represent many.

There was President Virginia Tisei, lobbyist Mary Lou Maloney, Maureen Sullivan, Dan Becker, and Lucie Chansky, all family members and passionate about services. The Turning 22 Law had only recently been passed and funding was limited. We had our work ahead of us.

Chapter leaders welcomed me too, and they were committed to resolving waiting lists and addressing the lopsided investment in institutional care. The Arc is a big tent and our advocacy’s impact extends far beyond chapters, yet the chapters’ long-term commitment to advocacy has been key to our stability.

Past President Joe Andrade, who had completed a successful career as a CFO, served as our volunteer financial officer. But he was much more, and he helped me appreciate how board leaders could advise and guide us through good and bad times. He spent nearly twenty years and his experience only added value to his role as a leader.

Why does that history matter? Today is not so different than what we faced in 1991.

Beyond an initial $10 million investment in Turning 22, there was no guarantee of further funding. Most of the adult community services that did exist were through The Arc’s insistence of a community plan through the consent decrees.

Separate from Turning 22, we had coined the term “Unserved” to address those on waiting lists. Today, we are post-COVID, but we face barriers based on an inadequate and undervalued disability workforce, many of whom have been committed long-term to our constituents.

This isn’t ancient Rome. It’s Massachusetts in the United States of America.

Our constituents deserve the supports that will allow them to fully participate in their communities. And families should be just that, parents, sisters, brothers – being responsive, but not indentured as caregivers because we’ve failed to assist both the individual and them.

There are unserved and barely served these days. But this post-pandemic period is NOT the first time we’ve faced this challenge. It’s in our DNA to face up to it.

To paraphrase 2018 comments from past president Fred Misilo:

It’s in the DNA of The Arc to be a fierce opponent of bias, courageously advance civil and human rights, and be vigilant advocates in obtaining home and community services for all in need.

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