I spoke with a friend last week, who was quite upset over the closing of a locally-owned store in our region. This was one of those little shops that just seemed to “always be there.” Truth is that for many, it had. This beloved little shop opened in 1970, and had survived previous recessions - even hurricanes and floods - but could not weather the storm of a pandemic. My friend was genuinely grieved; this little shop held three generations of memories, from holding her mother’s hand while they shopped, to being able to share the treasure with her own children. Now after 50 years, all that remains is a locked door and empty shelves.  “It’s so weird. It’s always been there, and now it’s just... not.”

The conversation stuck with me. What else have we taken for granted? A favorite place to shop? A restaurant that holds special meaning? A treasured tradition honored for years or decades? A job? Your business? A sense of security? A loved one? This pandemic has reminded us all of the danger of taking important aspects of our lives for granted. We have been reminded that nothing is certain, and that things we count on as foundational for our lives can be lost.

For those who count on the services of a nonprofit organization or a social services agency for the basic foundations of living, the idea that those services may not exist has to be the epitome of the unthinkable. Those of us who are called to this work, who feel a deep personal empathy for those we serve, shoulder the burden with great urgency. Whether it’s a pandemic or a real estate bubble burst, an economic downturn hits us hard. 

At The Arc of Northern Virginia, our mission to serve those with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families has taken on increased significance.  In the rush to quickly address the concerns of the many, the few with special needs were routinely overlooked. Adults with disabilities who are not required to file income taxes were originally left out of stimulus payments. School-age children who rely upon Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) have been left out of system-wide solutions for remote learning. All year long, in addition to reformatting ongoing programs and services, we’ve been asked to meet new and increasing needs unforeseen when the ball dropped in Times Square almost 12 months ago.

This year of challenges has opened our eyes to what is possible, from new ways of providing services to innovations in how our constituents can use technologies to achieve their goals. Adversity often brings about innovation, and here at The Arc of Northern Virginia, we’ve taken what we’ve learned and crafted a way forward into the new year. 

We’ve branded our endeavor Vision 2020, and our campaign will lay the foundation on which next year’s programs and services will be built. As of this writing, I’m pleased that we’re more than halfway toward the goal of $200,000 raised. I’m optimistic we’ll meet that goal so that The Arc of Northern Virginia will remain on strong and stable footing.  Because the needs of families supporting an individual with intellectual and developmental disabilities aren’t getting easier. 

• Services for early child development are harder to obtain due to the pandemic. 

• Fear of spreading the disease and shortages of PPE have severely impacted professionals who provide in-home support services.

• The pandemic-caused cancellation of day programs, volunteer opportunities and jobs programs leave many adults with nothing meaningful to pass the time, all day, every day. 

Our work supporting our families and opening opportunities for true inclusion is more important now than ever.  

At a recent event, this mom shared her appreciation for the sense of security that our community provides through their generous contributions:

“I am not sure what we would have done without The Arc of Northern Virginia. As anyone with a child with disabilities knows, it is a never-ending labor of love. In helping them achieve independence while at the same time managing their benefits, their finances, and their logistics, there are always questions that arise that require answers, explanations, and direction. The Arc of Northern Virginia is the first place I turn to for support, and if there is an answer, they have it. I am comforted in knowing they will always be there.”

In a time when so many “always be theres” are actually no longer there, we have turned to our friends and neighbors in the community to ensure we ARE there for the families and for the individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, who count on us. Together, we CAN ensure that The Arc of Northern Virginia will “always be there.”

Learn about our Vision 2020 campaign here: https://thearcofnova.org/vision2020/

With a caring and grateful heart, 

Rikki Epstein, Executive Director

The Arc of Northern Virginia

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