History of The Arc of Opportunity
The Arc of Opportunity in North Central Massachusetts has a rich history and has seen many changes over its lifetime due to our progressive nature and desire to continually strengthen the supports offered. The story of our history will highlight the significant changes and why they needed to happen. Please be aware that throughout our story there is language that is no longer used but has been kept in our story, you will see those words in "quotes", to help show the evolution of our movement.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN:
Our organization was created from the hard work of two different but equally determined agencies. These two agencies were the trailblazers for securing equal rights for individuals with disabilities and are the inspiration for who we are today and what we continue to strive for.
One of our founding agencies, “ARC” of North Central, Inc., began in 1952 when a small group of parents, led by Coula Veros, came together to be the voice of change for their children with disabilities. Little was known about the condition of intellectual and developmental disabilities (at the time referred to as “mental retardation”). It was common for doctors to tell parents that the best place for their child was in an institution. Driven by their collective desire to raise their children in their homes combined with their stubborn refusal to accept that institutionalization was the only option, “ARC’s” founding members fought even harder. Like every parent of any child, they wanted the best life possible for their children. They wanted their children to lead fulfilling, happy lives out in the community and not shuttered away in dark institutions. It was in that spirit that the agency eventually changed its name to “ARC” Community Services.
The agency worked tirelessly to provide services to individuals who needed special assistance in the areas of employment training, job placement, alternative day programs for adults where employment is not feasible, elderly services, summer enrichment programs, community inclusion programs, and recreational/social activities. This multifaceted agency offered individuals and their families the opportunity to exercise control in making choices in all aspects of their lives while receiving the supports necessary to enhance their lives and becoming as independent as possible within their living, working or recreation/leisure environments.
Our second founding agency, incorporated in 1973, was North Central Massachusetts Friends of the “Retarded”, Inc. This agency started as most classic grassroots movements start, the founder, Mrs. Eunice J. Matson, had a dream. Her dream was a better life for her child with disabilities than that of the institution for “mentally retarded” people run by the state. She knew that people with disabilities should live in and be a part of their own communities. Because of her strong beliefs, she worked tirelessly throughout her life to ensure that “mentally retarded” individuals had the chance to realize their human and legal right to live with their families and in their community with freedom and dignity. After a massive public relations and fundraising campaign were launched, the first Community Residence in the area was open at 76 Mechanic Street in Fitchburg.
Over the next four years, the agency opened six more community residence programs as well as the Cooperative Apartment Program (COOP), which provided housing for ten individuals and was the next step in the progression of residential homes for individuals.
In 1981, North Central Massachusetts Friends of the “Retarded”, Inc. received the first of many name changes, now being called ‘Eunice J. Matson Friends of the “Retarded”, Inc.’ to honor its founder and first Executive Director. The 80s continued to represent a time of tremendous growth with homes opening in surrounding cities, and a heightened determination to provide ‘whatever it takes’ to support any individual.
The Agency made one more substantial transformation in 1996 by rewriting its by-laws and making another critical and progressive name change, as of May 1, 1996, the Agency became known as Matson Community Services, Inc. (MCS).
DETERMINATION LEADS TO PROGRESSION:
“ARC” and MCS each took pride in their commitment to the people they served. Throughout their existence, the agencies have been determined to accommodate the ever changing needs of the individuals supported. This is evidenced by the ongoing program redefinitions and restructuring that has taken place over our more than sixty-five-year history.
In 1998 MCS, Inc. began structuring a strategic alliance with “ARC” Community Services to strengthen available resources and offer a full spectrum of services to individuals and their families in Central Massachusetts. MCS and “ARC” also successfully combined administrative functions with the Alliance for Resource Management, Inc. to make the most of two successful and remarkable organizations.
In 1999, the Alliance for Resource Management was designated as the parent corporation of Matson Community Services and “ARC” Community Services, which combined the expertise, service, and knowledge of all three agencies. Although many great advancements were being made with the alliance of the three agencies, using three different names was confusing to the public and diluted the impact in the broader community. Through a strategic planning process in 2010, it was determined that they must consider unifying the three agencies under one name to eliminate confusion and maximize the impact in the community.
WHO WE PROUDLY ARE TODAY:
After two long years of planning, The Alliance for Resource Management, Matson Community Services and “ARC” Community Services announced a new and unified name in February 2012: The Arc of Opportunity in North Central Massachusetts. The new organization name reinforces our mission “to create and support lifetime opportunities in the community for individuals with disabilities and their families to reach their fullest potential by providing advocacy, education, employment, residential, and recreational services to enhance quality of life.”
The Arc of Opportunity has grown and adapted to the challenges that individuals with disabilities face across their life span. We are the largest national community-based organization advocating for and supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. We encompass all ages and all spectrums from autism, Down syndrome, Fragile X and various other developmental disabilities. We provide a full range of supports focusing on the unique abilities of each person and helping each person find their place in the community through job placement and training, advocacy, education, housing, and recreation.