An Arc to a Full Circle of Care

28 Nov 2021

A steadfast organization actively supporting Sandhills citizens with disabilities for over 50 years

By Crissy Neville  »  Photos by Brandon Williams

Mathematicians know about arcs — the unbroken part of the circumference of a circle or other curve. In the beauty contest of shapes, it's a winner we admire in rainbows and sunsets, architecture and phases of the moon.

But who wants just to look? Sideline quarterbacks become professionals when you consider an arc as an action, a movement or propulsion of something — or someone — toward its trajectory. If a ball arcs in its path, chances are it will meet its mark and reach new heights getting there.

Aptly named, The Arc of Moore County is attuned to the latter lexicon, a dynamic defined through an organization with over 50 years of assisting persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in the Sandhills. The roll-up-your-sleeves and get-to-work kind of involvement. Life-changing. Friend-making. Support-giving. Difference-making. Not a "let's look at that" but a "let's do this" kind of place.

Making sure the important work of The Arc gets done is Wendy Carter, the agency's 28-year-tenured executive director. Not just the present-day leader, Carter is the first and only director the Moore County nonprofit has ever had. In the noun vs. verb scenario, Carter is the action-oriented leader who helps define The Arc's community role — starting with its name — originally not a part of speech at all.

"When I started in 1993, we were still the ARC on the national scale. This was an acronym used since the 1950s, and one, it pains me to say, that contained language hurtful to the population we served. So, the national organizational rebranded itself as The Arc, removing an offensive word and reference because we do not label people. The Arc is a respectful, non-acronym reflective of the people we support. I was happy that the name was changed, even though it has been challenging to explain what we do when you just say The Arc. But as long as I am here, it is a personal mission of mine that everyone will know it is The Arc and not the old acronym."

Carter is also glad to explain what The Arc does. Its mission is her mission and that of her Southern Pines staff: to enhance the quality of life for individuals of all ages with I/DD and their families through advocacy, support, and services. Throughout her tenure, Carter has quietly and effectively worked on these goals in Moore County.

Yet, the Sandhills agency is part of something even bigger. The Arc of Moore County is a private, autonomous 501(c)3 and affiliated chapter of The Arc of North Carolina and The Arc of the United States — collectively the largest national community-based organization advocating for and serving the I/DD community across the country.

Carter explains her becoming a part of The Arc of Moore County, a local resource with a much wider reach, as "something just meant to be."

An English major with a decade of experience in journalism, Carter said when first hired, she envisioned herself becoming an administrator of sorts, stereotypically managing office hours and personnel, phone calls and paperwork. Thankfully, she said, she soon found out that perception to be "so wrong."

"My early view of my role went out the window," she said. "This job is all about the people. Some of the folks associated with The Arc I have known my entire tenure. There are people we support whom I have watched grow up, and there are parents I have seen age over the years who are still some of my dearest friends."

"People we support'' is Carter's chosen and respectful way of referring to The Arc's clients, some 150 persons a month or more involved in either or all of the agency's services at no cost to them: respite care, First In Families (FIF), advocacy and enrichment. Some may receive years of support, while others tap into resources only occasionally or as needed.

The longest service tenure is seen within the respite care program, where relationships are forged between clients and extensively trained caregivers, who are part-time employees of The Arc. According to Carter, this service can look many different ways — in the home and one-on-one or in public for community outings and small groups excursions. The goal of respite care is to provide relief from the day-to-day routine for a family member or primary caregiver of an individual The Arc serves.

Clients who choose to apply may receive assistance once a year via FIF for help with a car repair, wheelchair ramp or doctor's bill — just a few examples of the assistance available through what Carter said is The Arc's "most popular program, one unlike any other and North Carolina's official model for family support."

Advocacy is another arm, one at "the core of The Arc." She shared, "It can be anything that provides support, such as a staff member's attending a school meeting at a parent's request, helping someone new to the area find resources, writing a letter to a legislator or speaking up, trying to right a wrong, reporting abuse and intervening if necessary. My staff and board are very passionate about advocacy."

The Arc's very popular enrichment activities are another outreach opportunity.  

"We are very proud of our clubs and activities for adults," said Carter. "We have the Joyful Noise chorus, Book Club and Aktion Club — a community service group offered in conjunction with the Kiwanis of the Sandhills. These are open for people with or without disabilities to participate in or see, as in attending a Joyful Noise community concert."

Local constituents of The Arc don't let grass grow under their feet, either, as they head to popular events like the annual Halloween Bash, Spring Prom, Summer Fling or Christmas Movie & Snow Spectacular.

The organization is firmly rooted in Moore County, with office space here but fingers in seven neighboring counties for respite care and eight for the state-funded FIF network. Still, The Arc's diverse offerings do not happen inside their brick-and-mortar facility but rather, as Carter proudly noted, "out in the community" in homes and at numerous places across the county.

All of this is indicative of the nonprofit's growth over the years. When Carter first came on board, The Arc was a small $40K-budgeted-a-year agency serving a handful of persons through respite care options with only one employee, Peggy Lassiter, who recently retired. As early as the 1960s, The Arc of Moore County was a support group of parent volunteers later spearheaded by Lassiter, who desired services for children with I/DD. They did much of the heavy lifting that brought change on many levels. Volunteers, as well as donations, are still needed – and welcome.

Aside from state funding that fulfills various, but not all, needs, The Arc fundraises to assist with its enrichment offerings and more. While the spring brings an annual golf fundraiser, coming up in February at Rubicon Farm in West End is the organization's largest fundraiser, "We Heart The Arc," a  Valentine's Day event featuring dinner, live and silent auctions and a performance by the Joyful Noise choir. Carter invites everyone to purchase a ticket, come out and show their love and, like her, "heart The Arc."

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