Meet Vanessa & Jonta
Vanessa Parham said she first heard about ARC from a friend who said they hired people with special needs. She suggested her son, Jonta’, 23, apply. “I’ve been fighting for him since he was three years old,” she said, adding that as his mother she is “an advocate for my boy.” Jonta’ went to his interview in a suit jacket, and Vanessa said ARC was impressed by his appearance and personality.
Now employed at the Defense Supply Center in Richmond, Jonta’ works evenings performing janitorial duties, saying the people are “nice.” He is diligent in his work, following his mom’s advice to “be the best you can be.” With his first earnings, Jonta’ bought sneakers and hats, and even a ring for his mother. “Jonta’ likes bling-bling,” she said, smiling. But success has not come quickly or easily. Vanessa said her son was misdiagnosed as a youngster and she “kept fighting” on his behalf. “I am not going to give up,” she says. “Jonta’ comes first.”
When Dean Smith, 14, was handed the microphone at ARC‘s annual awards banquet, he knew just what to do. He began singing a popular rock song much to everyone’s delight. As“Individual of the Year in Respite” at Camp Baker, Dean was recognized for his contributions as a longtime program participant. He spends one weekend a month at our respite program, where he has a chance to socialize with his peers, while his parents have a “very liberating” break, says his mom Suzanne. “He’s safe and having fun, and we have peace of mind.” “You feel like you can just exhale. I know he’s in good hands,” she said, adding that participating in ARC has been “life changing.“
The organization does a “phenomenal job.” Dean particularly enjoys respite’s community outings that include everything from going putt-putting and shopping, to even visiting nearby landmarks. “I don’t know what I would do without ARC,” Suzanne said, adding it is comforting for their family that with its many programs, “Dean will be able to enjoy all the organization has to offer for years to come!”
Sherry Taylor, 52, has been part of the ARC family for 30 years. Now in Workforce Development, Sherry spends her day in job training; honing her skills twice a week at the Science Museum of Virginia, for instance, where she cleans and dusts the “cool exhibits.” Her dream is to someday get a “job where I can help fix different meals.” In the meantime, she volunteers with ARC at Meals on Wheels, and delivers food to the frail elderly and others in need. One of her closest friends at ARC is deaf, and Sherry has been a strong advocate in learning ways to communicate with people who are hearing impaired, including using flash cards and learning basic sign language. “I would like to help people who cannot hear,“ she says Most of all, Sherry wants to continue to “learn about work and jobs.” She helps in the production facility at ARC by packing batteries for alarms and also performs light cleaning in an ARC-related project for Megabus. And what does this people-loving, fierce advocate for people with disabilities enjoy and continue to want more of at ARC? “Job coaching.”
James “Patrick” Brown’s got rhythm. Just ask anyone. When ARC holds its annual dance, he’s up front keeping time with the music. The beat goes on every action-packed day, with Patrick, 39, participating in activities at ARC including cooking and arts and crafts. He’s been part of the program since infancy, first receiving occupational, physical, and speech therapies, and then when older enjoying Camp Baker summer fun. His mom Patricia says she first heard about ARC when she passed a bus sign asking, “Need help?” with a phone number. The rest is history. “It’s just awesome that they are about the total family and provide opportunities across the lifespan, treating their clients with total respect and honoring the people they are,” she said. “It’s a happy place to go.