Brian Denton Davis has always had a sharp memory. He never forgets a face, has a vocabulary that would put the dictionary to shame, and can quickly master just about any instrument with a keyboard.
He can also remember a time as a young boy when he would visit neighbors down the road, walking a quarter-mile through rural Jackson County to reach the closest house. Now 50 years old, Brian no longer has the time or the energy for that trip.
Instead, his social life revolves around The Arc Jackson County, an organization that helps adults with intellectual disabilities lead rich and rewarding lives through education, volunteering and job opportunities.
Brian has Williams Syndrome, a rare genetic condition shared by just 20,000 people across the U.S. that is characterized by certain medical problems and developmental delays. However, unlike many such disorders, people with Williams Syndrome tend to be outgoing and sociable and are often able to work as volunteers or in paid positions in their community.
Because he’s relatively high-functioning, Brian’s mother, Louise Davis, says he doesn’t go to The Arc so much for the socialization and life-skills training they offer as he does for the relationships he has built there. But for others, The Arc offers the kind of home they can’t find anywhere else.
“Brian loves going there because he has friends at all intellectual levels; he doesn’t see anyone’s disability,” Davis says. “But a lot of these people don’t have the advantages he does in having parents or siblings to take him to do things. If they didn’t have the program, they wouldn’t get out of the house. The Arc gives them a chance to learn new things.”
Part of a national organization that has existed since 1950, The Arc Jackson County was founded in 1960 and has been providing direct services to people in the community since 1986.
Sara Haynes, who has worked at the Jackson County branch of The Arc for nearly 30 years and currently serves as executive director, says one of the organization’s primary goals is to provide people with intellectual disabilities a basic level of engagement with their community that many people take for granted.
“Historically, people with disabilities have not had the same opportunities that you and I have had to become a part of their communities,” she says. “They might have been placed in an institution or kept at home and not taken out, so they haven’t had the opportunity to grow and develop in all those social roles.”
The Arc seeks to remedy that by offering a curriculum composed of five different areas of focus. Depending on what their doctor’s recommendations are, people can choose to spend their time in areas designed to teach socialization, exercise, independent living and self-care. There is also an area just for seniors.
The primary goal is to promote independence, so some areas include computers and iPads that help people communicate more easily, while classes like socialization take people out into the community to learn the basic interaction skills they need.
One of the most important ways The Arc is able to help people live more fulfilling lives is supporting them in finding jobs in their community. For years, The Arc was connected to Valley Industries, a sheltered facility where those with mental disabilities could work on subassemblies for local industry.
However, with Valley Industries shutting down on Sept. 30, the focus is shifting toward finding other employment opportunities throughout Jackson County. The Arc already has a group of five working on packaging and assembly for fuel systems at Sanoh America, with another 38 people employed across the region. Haynes hopes that with the closing of Valley Industries, there will be more opportunities for the community’s mentally disabled residents to work among their neighbors.
“We’re trying to become a more integrated part of the community,” she says. “We want to get people out and doing things that help them have a meaningful day, whether that’s volunteering or working a job of their own.”
Bringing people home
While Valley Industries’ closure is unfortunate, Brian shares Haynes’ optimism that it will lead to more jobs across Jackson County. He’s also a prime example of just how rewarding those jobs can be, as he left Valley Industries several years ago for a job shredding paper at the county courthouse.
Davis says the most exciting part of the job for her son is being able to see people he knows from all over Jackson County every day.
“He dearly loves it because everybody goes to the courthouse sooner or later,” she says. “I could really see him blossom as soon as he started at the courthouse. He recently told Sara it has changed his life.”
For Haynes, those opportunities are at the heart of what The Arc strives to do in making its community a home for the mentally disabled. Perhaps the clearest embodiment of The Arc’s ultimate goal is a man who was recently able to do something everyone aspires to: buy his own house thanks to a job with a good wage.
“It just means a lot to see people have their dreams come true,” Haynes says. “Just like we dream of having our own home, it’s no different for them. Everyone needs a home.”