ARC organizational meeting set for Dec. 4

By Greg Miller

An organizational meeting for Arc of Carter County will be held at the Carter County School Board office, 305 Acadmy Street, on Thursday, Dec. 4, at 7 p.m.
   Ellie Hjemmet, president of the organization hopes that "we are able to build and serve a substantial, committed and informed membership, reflecting the racial, social, economic, cultural and demographic diversity of our local community. We want to include families of both younger and older individuals with varied levels of need, people served by the chapter and self-advocates to achieve a better quality of life. Equally important is that this initial meeting might help us as a group to focus on what specific needs do exist and help us prioritize those needs, so that we can develop strategies for providing both information and support to families and individuals with issues of mental retardation and other related developmental disabilities."
   Hjemmet wants to see the effort "coalesce into a strong service organization that will work through education and advocacy to improve the quality of life for children and adults with mental retardation and their families. What will happen at the first opportunity is that we will form a committed board of directors who will meet to collectively determine what our short-term and long- term goals will be, and set out our first steps toward meeting those goals. Anything that can be done to improve the participation of individuals with disabilities not only enriches their life, but enriches the whole community."
   Initially, Hjemmet said, the advocacy work and training of the organization's core group, "I Pinky Promise," will be continued. "The regional and state support that our larger Arc organization offers includes a great commitment to training us as parents, as self-advocates, as board members. Parents, family members, self-advocates and other volunteers are the driving force in The Arc. The Arc represents, supports and acts on behalf of individuals and their families regardless of level of disability or membership in The Arc.
   "The Arc believes in self-determination by empowering people with the supports needed to make informed decisions and choices. I hope we will work to develop local programs that will enhance self-sufficiency for the individuals we serve."
   Joining The Arc "is like opening a door," Hjemmet said. "We have access to a host of programs and services that provide choice, rights and responsibilities to people with disabilities. So many new programs are in the earliest stages of development at the state level, programs that provide independence and support. As an outlying region, and a rural part of the state, we have to make a noise, show our needs, make our commitment to bring the information and programs to our area."
   Nine demonstration sites of a program called "Home of Your Own" offer qualified first-time home buyers with disabilities assistance in obtaining a mortgage through a local bank in order to purchase their own home, according to Hjemmet. "There are Supported Living Demonstration Grants that provide people with disabilities the individualized help they need to live successfully in a home of their choice. There are programs for employment as well as for supported self-employment." Training is provided for volunteers, parents and educators.
   "There is assistance to attend the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities megaconmference, where one can gain in just a couple of days a huge education about the services that are available. It is so exciting to me that the result of forming our local Arc of Carter County will be to help people access services that can be, to the lone seeker, quite invisible. Both Teena Bradley and I have made a commitment to bring information and empowerment to our community because we were those lone seekers on our journeys to find help for our children."
   Local city and county schools are cooperating with the formation of ARC, Hjemmet said. "The education of our children with disabilities is so primary a focus for our parents, and we can do the best job collaboratively, supporting each other, understanding the services and planning the futures of our children together."
   Businesses and churches can assist the new organization, according to Hjemmet, who said those entities "can help in our mission to promote inclusion within communities where people with mental retardation or other disabilities are physically present and participate fully with people without disabilities as they live, learn, work, worship and play.
   Individuals can "join our organization, commit to self-education and volunteer," according to Hjemmet, who said all of the organization's members will be volunteers.
   "The Arc of Tennessee is a non-profit membership organization, working cooperatively with The Arc of the United States, that operates with contributions through membership fees and gifts, and receives funding from the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities, the Tennessee Division of Mental Retardation Services, Division of Long Term Care of TennCare. The Arc also relies on its gumball vending revenue to fund activities.
   "The local chapter will rely on membership fees to support our totally volunteer organization, plus assistance and support from the State chapter. Eventually we will aim for grants to fund local programs, as well as donations from the community. Fundraising will be one of our activities as we define the directions we want to expand in providing services."
   Hjemmet has no estimate of the number of families that may need the services of ARC in Carter County. "We are in the process of getting word out to public and private service providers, the health departments, nursing homes, group homes, doctors, mental health facilities, and with the help of our city and county schools' special education administrators, to parents of school age children," she said.
   For more information, call Hjemmet at 772-4146; Bradley (Arc's vice president), with "I Pinky Promise," at 547-0517; Dr. Jerri Lyons, Director of Special Education for the Carter County School System, at 547-4011; or Kim Lavin, Director of Federal Projects for the Elizabethton City School System, at 547-8109.