For programs aimed at helping people with disabilities, funding remains a challenge

Volunteers through The Arc of Harrisonburg and Rockingham celebrate a job well done at Bridgewater Retirement Community. (Photo courtesy of The Arc)

By Gracie Brogowski, contributor

A pair of organizations continue to help people with disabilities be more involved in the community, including training them for jobs or providing them with volunteer opportunities. But those agencies find themselves constantly grinding away with fundraising and grant requests to pay for those programs.  

One organization that plays a key role in including the disability community is The Arc of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. The organization was founded in 1962, and while its mission has changed over time, it focuses on getting participants involved and engaged in the community.  

“We are focused on getting folks out into the community,” said Jenna Smith, who is The Arc of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County’s director of communications. “So trying to move from a more isolated history to inclusive public spaces and engagement.”

The program focuses on helping participants with several types of developmental and intellectual disabilities to volunteer at places such as Massanutten Public Library and one of the local laundromats. Sometimes they go on small outings to places like the Valley Mall or a restaurant for lunch. The organization tries to get participants to interact with one another as well. 

“If I had to pick [my favorite activity], it’d be going to the movies,” participant Joe Connor said. “I like seeing the screen, eating my snacks and all that stuff.”

Smith said the organization struggles with financial support from Medicaid waiver reimbursement and the loss of many service providers during the pandemic, Smith said. The organization heavily relies on fundraising efforts

“Just like any non-profit, [we] really struggle to every year meet the financial needs that are required to provide these services,” Smith said.

Another organization that does similar work is Friendship Industries. Friendship Industries was founded in the 1960s and works to train people with disabilities or any other barriers so they are better prepared for employment. 

“We do an assessment on them,” said Dennis Monday, the President of Friendship Industries. “What happens is we determine ‘OK, what is the real intensive one-on-one training for that person?’”

After they assess that person’s skills, they put them on the Friendship Industries production line until they feel ready for other employment opportunities. They will also help participants find a job that matches their skill sets. Some people continue to work with Friendship Industries while others choose to get jobs at local restaurants or stores.

“We will approach that company and say we have this individual that would love to work with you and here’s their skills and abilities,” Monday said.

Similar to The Arc of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, Friendship Industries faces challenging with finances. The organization tries to secure funding through the government as well as through its box-making production line.

“We have customers all over the place that we package their stuff — retail-ready — to go in the big-box grocery stores chains,” Monday said. “We can never be fully funded by that.” 

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