In a Nutshell: The Arc of San Diego provides and facilitates crucial services for special needs individuals, from children to seniors. It helps to identify special needs early in life and provides living assistance to adults. For those capable of independent living, it provides employment assistance and placement, particularly with partnered retailers and within the service industry. It also offers day programs where individuals receive instruction in various life skills ranging from domestic tasks to money management and living debt-free. Although The Arc’s operations have been affected by COVID-19, The Arc of San Diego has been able to successfully transition into virtual service and support that continues to meet its clients’ varied needs.
According to KidsData.org, 14.2% of San Diego County’s public school students qualified as special needs learners in 2019. That’s about 7 out of every 50 students.
Public School Review reports that in 2021, the Unified San Diego School District had 125,768 students. This means that approximately 17,850 of them were special needs students. That is not an insignificant number. And it represents a greater need in a segment of the community at large beyond the school system.
From children to adults, The Arc of San Diego is committed to serving everyone with special needs. Founded in 1951 by the Ocean Beach Women’s Club, The Arc initially focused on addressing the lack of services for children with disabilities. Since then, the organization’s purview has expanded from children to the population at large.
“We still do offer services to children, but we also offer services for adults and seniors as well,” said Megan Bosse, Marketing and Community Outreach Manager at The Arc. “Today, we are the largest and most comprehensive service provider for people with disabilities throughout San Diego County, and we serve about 2,000 children and adults with disabilities.”
These services cover a wide range of needs, from early intervention, education and employment assistance, independent living, and adult care. Across the spectrum of needs and at all stages of life, The Arc seeks to ensure that special needs individuals receive the support and services necessary for them to lead fulfilling, productive lives that are financially stable and debt-free.
Early Intervention and Adult Care Ensure Well-being at Every Stage of Life
“One of our big programs is our early intervention services,” Bosse said. “That program serves toddlers from birth to three years old who are experiencing developmental delays. This program really provides a lot of support to families.”
This support includes working with children in classrooms to develop skills and provide parents with at-home activities that build on what the children are learning in school. It also offers the opportunity for weekend outings to help children develop their social and cognitive skills.
“We offer center-based services but our early intervention services staff will actually travel to the home, and they’ll do home visits,” Bosse said. “That’s another way that we assist these families.”
The Arc provides special needs seniors with services and support too. These include running a day program and maintaining multiple residential homes in San Diego which provide an alternative to more costly facilities.
“A lot of those residents are seniors who either their family has passed away or their parents can’t care for them anymore,” Bosse said. “The residential homes are fully staffed with nurses and direct support professionals that provide around-the-clock care to the residents. So that’s a way for them to be living independently and still receive the care that they need.”
Employment Services Support Financial Stability
“One of our services is our employment services that help people ages 18 and older get jobs,” Bosse said. “We have job coaches and a job development team that work with each client to identify what their career goals are and then work with them one-on-one.”
During the early stages, this includes preparing a résumé and picking out clothes to wear to an interview. Coaches can also arrange transportation to and from interviews and accompany individuals to work on the first day as they receive training.
“Employment services serve as a support system for people when they’re seeking employment,” Bosse said. “Because, for a lot of people with disabilities, it’s more challenging to find employment and find employers that are inclusive and looking to hire people with disabilities.”
Many of The Arc’s clients find productive work in food service and retail. The Arc maintains partnerships with Home Depot, Walmart, and other chains to secure employment for special needs individuals. It also has a partnership with the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. The organization provides additional opportunities for employment and helps special needs individuals earn adequate wages and avoid debt.
“We have worked with them and Sodexo to find employees to work in their mess hall doing everything from serving the recruits’ food to cleaning the mess hall,” Bosse said.
Of course, the opportunities extend into other industries and facilities like warehouses, where workers carry out tasks like collating and packaging items before shipping and distribution.
“It’s something that our clients really enjoy doing,” Bosse said. “It gives them a sense of purpose for their day.”
Skills Programs Prepare Individuals for Independent Living
“A lot of our Independent Living Services clients have families,” Bosse said. “We assign Independent Living Professionals to help those clients with everything from financial planning, to helping them pay rent, helping them budget for the month to buy groceries, and plan meals.”
The organization also helps these clients use public transportation and assists in making sure they are keeping up with their medical appointments, Bosse said.
Beyond direct services, The Arc also connects families to other community services and programs that help them maintain or improve their quality of life.
“With our clients who are living independently and are employed, we provide them with support to make sure that they are able to hold their jobs and remain financially independent,” Bosse said. “Independent Living Services is an area where we provide a lot of financial support.”
For those individuals who aren’t capable of independent living, The Arc offers a day program that they can attend to receive care and develop important skills. Previously, this was all done in-person and on-site, and it offered a variety of classes focusing on life skills. Some of these were oriented on domestic skills, while others were focused on financial skills to help them manage their money and avoid debt.
“We offer different classes like cooking gardening, art therapy, and self-advocacy,” Bosse said. “We also have courses focused on communication, safety, money management, and life skills.”
The Arc of San Diego: Tools to Help Families and Communities
Obviously, many of The Arc’s services and programs were directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Restrictions were stressful for the population at large, and the special needs community was no exception.
“The clients in our day programs depended on coming to the program every day,” Bosse said. “It was kind of their second home. They would be there [with] their direct support professionals that they see every day and their case managers that they know by name and were familiar with.”
Going from having that daily support system to being isolated at home and not seeing the people they normally see every day was very hard on a lot of clients. Luckily, The Arc was able to transition many of its clients into virtual programs.
But with mass availability of vaccines, the possibility of returning to normal is becoming a real prospect rather than a distant hope. Bosse said that, even after the centers are able to reopen, The Arc will still have many clients who choose to participate virtually. She said she anticipates operating on a hybrid model at that point.