Advocates Say Disability Forgotten in Nonprofit Assessment

A comprehensive review of the needs of Loudoun’s nonprofits found there are gaps and shortcomings in the county’s safety net. Disability advocates say that report has gaps of its own.

“As a representative of the Arc of Loudoun, I participated in the nonprofit survey as well as one of the focus groups,” said Arc of Loudoun at Paxton Campus Executive Director Melissa Heifetz. “I was shocked and saddened to see the recommendations from the assessment completely overlooked the needs of the disability community.”

The Arc of Loudoun provides services to people with mental and physical disabilities in Loudoun, through programs like the ALLY Advocacy Center and the Aurora School. It is also known for its Shocktober fundraiser, which features a haunted house tour through the property’s 140-year-old manor.

Heifetz said even though she and other disability advocates were part of the nonprofits needs assessment’s study, the people they serve were left out of the results.

“These are significant gaps in service, and they were mentioned in the focus groups, but somehow were overlooked when the findings were developed,” Heifetz told the county board.

The full 266-page report—actually a cluster of reports both on Loudoun and how it compares to other jurisdictions—includes mention of disability services in its long-form breakdown of results from focus groups, surveys and research. But those references disappear in the report’s summarized reports and recommendations.

And while other areas of need have problems with overlapping services and lack of coordination among nonprofits, Heifetz said disability nonprofits coordinate well—they just need more funding.

The county does provide some services for people with disabilities through the Department of Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Disability Services, but Heifetz said it can’t meet the full need.

She gave the example of people who graduate high school and need support because of their disability. They don’t go straight to college or into jobs. The Arc of Loudoun sits on a committee with the county to help with that transition out of high school.

“If that person needs some kind of support, and they don’t have a Medicaid waiver, there is no ability really for them to get that kind of support,” Heifetz said. “So they kind of look to us, and say, can you provide case management, and we would love to. But we need more funding.”

And the study already has that reflected in its full results, she said.

“All we’re asking is that they look again at what people were saying in those focus groups,” Heifetz said. “…In the end you have this 200-something page document, but if you sum it all up and you leave out that group, they’re going to be left out.”

She voiced her support for Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large)’s idea to include some nonprofits as line items in the county budget, rather than subjecting them to the county’s competitive nonprofit grant-making process. Heifetz said that would create stability and the ability to plan ahead for nonprofits that are doing work where the county falls short.

Jennifer Alves, who lives with a disability and works at Arc of Loudoun, said she has difficulty being independent. She said she’s been looking for a new place to live Leesburg.

“The cost of rent per month takes all of my job income and my Social Security check, leaving me nothing for meals, transportation, a phone, clothing, and no recreation spending whatsoever,” Alves said. “My struggles are that of so many residents in Loudoun County.”

“It is a nick every time we are omitted, overlooked, discounted, downgraded,” said Loudoun ENDependence outreach coordinator Tracee Garner, who told the board “I am going to be 41 on Oct. 15, that’s just 12 days away, and for a Jerry’s Kid, that’s really good.”

Jerry’s Kids refers to children assisted by the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

“The needs assessment is so important because that is our voice, and that is how we are counted, and that is how we are heard,” Garner said. “And that it is why it should be reconsidered.”

The county finance committee saw the nonprofit needs assessment at its meeting Sept. 20, and will take it up again in November.

rgreene@loudounnow.com
@RenssGreene

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