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Ella Boyd eagerly waits for the chance to help people who have family members or who work with adults and children who have disabilities. But sometimes it’s a long wait.
As office manager of The Arc of Bartholomew County, Boyd works from a sun-filled space in the entry room, answering phone calls and directing people to resources that can help them deal with Down syndrome, autism and other physical and mental disabilities.
Boyd said the phone rings maybe five times a week and people walk in with questions a few times a month.
Special meetings and support groups are conducted in the evenings at the facility on Doctors Park Drive. But during the day, it’s too quiet for Boyd. She would love for the community to take advantage of the free resources available to them.
This includes a new lending library with books, educational videos, therapy toys and equipment that volunteers have been assembling in recent weeks.
The two-floor Arc office has about 1,600 square feet on the main floor with an office, conference room, computer room, kitchenette, handicapped-accessible restroom, children’s play area and parking lot right outside the door.
Downstairs is another 1,000 square feet of mostly unfinished space available for future growth.
It’s a much larger space than Arc had when it operated out of an office at the Doug Otto United Way Center of Bartholomew County, which it left about two years ago.
Renovations to the former medical office were completed by volunteers from Cummins Tech Center, who also helped raise money to assist with the purchase of the building. The Heritage Fund: The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County also provided support with grants to refurbish equipment.
Boyd said she has been working to get the word out about the facility and its services at community meetings and events and wherever else she can talk about the positive aspects of The Arc, a local, state and national organization that has been around since the mid-1950s.
She wishes more people would take advantage of the local facility and its services because she knows how it can have a positive effect on their lives.
Even though The Arc does not provide direct services, the organization acts as a resource to help people find the answers and assistance they need.
Boyd hears the frustration of families who have members with disabilities. Many don’t know where to go for help.
They sometimes have questions about health insurance, financial matters or government assistance programs. Others might have transportation or housing issues or simply are looking for the support of other caregivers going through similar situations.
“When they learn about resources that can help them, their world lightens up,” Boyd said.
Lynne Eckerle of Columbus, who has a 21-year-old daughter with cerebral palsy, spent 10 years on The Arc board in Bartholomew County and is glad to see the agency has a space that has the potential to help many families in the community.
Statistics show at least 10 percent of Bartholomew County residents have some form of disability, said Eckerle, who previously served as regional director for First Steps, a nonprofit agency that serves as an early intervention program for infants and toddlers with special needs.
“The Arc has always been a parent-driven organization, and we really operated on a shoestring,” said Eckerle, whose husband, Wayne, is the current Arc board president in Bartholomew County.
Thanks to the many volunteers, fundraising efforts and grants, the local space offers a warm and welcoming space, Eckerle said.
Wayne Eckerle said when he and his wife were looking for answers about their daughter, they did not know where to turn. That’s one of the reasons they want to reach out and help other parents going through similar struggles.
Lynne Eckerle said The Arc has worked collaboratively through the years with other organizations, such as Childhood Connections and First Steps, which still works closely with The Arc, sharing items in the lending library in the agency’s new space.
The Arc spent many years without any paid staff, but last year hired Boyd as the office’s only staff member. She works 15 to 20 hours per week.
Boyd also is able to work 10 or more hours a week more at the office through the AmeriCorps program, where she is paid to work as the agency’s volunteer resource manager.
“The office just has not been utilized as it could be. Now we hope to have more people take advantage of it,” Lynne Eckerle said.
And Boyd said she knows firsthand what many of the callers or visitors are feeling.
Her 38-year-old brother, Jamie Boyd, has cerebral palsy, and for many years, doctors told Boyd’s parents they should expect him to accomplish very little.
Today, Jamie Boyd, 38, works at Bob Poynter auto dealership in Columbus doing handyman and odd jobs, drives a golf cart around the business complex and loves his job, Boyd said.
Her brother is an example, Boyd said, of how people with disabilities often are eager to learn new skills, make friends and even find a job.
“We want to help them focus and shine,” Boyd said.
New lending library
The newly expanded and refurbished lending library is just one way Boyd and other Arc supporters hope to attract new families to The Arc center. The resources also are available to anyone who works with or spends time with the disabled.
Volunteers Sarah Branham and Chetna Acharya spent a recent work session sorting through new donations and admiring the many items that could be useful for families, from games and puzzles to educational videos and wheelchairs.
Items include therapy toys that can help with small and large motor skills. Some are gently used, others are new.
Branham, who has a young son with a disability, feels a personal connection to the work being done at The Arc and wants others to know about the services it has to offer.
Branham remembers the frustration she felt trying to find answers and the appreciation for agencies that were able to help with her son, who has attention deficit hyperactive disorder and oppositional defiant disorder.
“I wanted to make a difference here,” said Branham as she photographed items that would be placed on the lending library shelves. She and Acharya were
assisting with the inventory process.
Lynne Eckerle said the lending library can be especially useful because families can try out items before they spend money to purchase them or ask for their insurance to buy them.
Branham said she’s enjoyed getting the library organized and has even tried her hand at other skills outside of her normal areas of expertise. She recently helped put up drywall in the agency’s basement.
Boyd and Arc board members want an unfinished basement room to be transformed into a place where teens and adults with disabilities, who are members of The Aktion Club, can hang out together to play games, watch TV, play video games or do other activities.
Boyd said she could use volunteers willing to do all types of tasks at The Arc as it works to expand its efforts and programs, but later will need volunteers with more specialized construction skills as the basement is further renovated.
Lynne Eckerle said those who seek help from The Arc have a common bond and can be helped by being together to support each other. She said each also has a unique challenge.
“All our roads are so different. One person’s road is not like another’s,” Lynne Eckerle said, “but we have a facility where we have lots of activities, information and support groups available to help each other.”
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