Adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities require a network of support services ranging from basic activities of daily living to transportation and vocational training. In the 1950’s, a group of families from across the country formed what would later become known as The Arc. This organization was the first to fund research into these types of disabilities, and has grown into the largest nationwide network of chapters serving tens of thousands of individuals with special needs.
In New Jersey, The Arc Mercer is known as the premier agency delivering services to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Formed in 1953, Arc Mercer has cultivated a reputation for pursuing innovative solutions to complex problems. This chapter, located in Ewing, NJ near the state capitol of Trenton, provides residential, vocational, recreational, transportation, and healthcare services to over 1,000 adults with varying levels of disability.
As is the case with many employers, finding qualified staff to perform these much-needed services presents a perpetual challenge. Arc Mercer has dedicated itself to investing in the team that works on the front-lines in mission-critical roles. One such investment is the creation and support for cultural diversity groups. The rationale behind this approach is that employees who are connected to one another through sharing and understanding each other’s cultures are more likely to feel appreciated and stay with that organization.
These groups meet frequently and provide valuable feedback to agency leadership on topics such as economic hardship, barriers to career development, and opportunities for furthering connections with the community. One of these groups, the Liberian Community Connection Group, facilitated introductions between agency leaders and their religious and cultural organizations in the community. These meetings led to a greater understanding of what the Liberian people bring to their jobs, and how institutions can embrace and facilitate greater engagement.
What follows is a proposition to not only help the staffing crisis in New Jersey, but to bring The Arc’s renowned quality of service to another country for the first time.
To address staff shortages in New Jersey, The Arc Mercer partnered with the Central Jersey Liberian Association and the Liberian Council of Churches to recruit Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) and specialized staff from the surrounding community.
Executive Director Steve Cook met with the Consul General of the Republic of Liberia and learned of the significant number of Liberians who were eager to serve those with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD), but who lacked the infrastructure in-country to do so.
In recognition of Liberian Independence Day, The Arc Mercer hosted a celebration and flag-raising ceremony, during which Executive Director Steve Cook announced our intention to form the first international chapter of The Arc of the United States in Monrovia, Liberia. Attended by representatives of the Liberian Government, the Liberian delegation to the UN, State and Local government officials, community leaders, and the Arc Mercer’s Board of Directors, this initiative was widely praised as innovative and potentially transformative.
Phase 3 (Current State)
Arc Mercer undertook the formation of a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) to operate in Liberia, which would facilitate research and recruiting. The Arc Mercer is partnering with the University of Liberia and AME Zion University to fund research projects in Liberia. This strategy was inspired by the genesis of The Arc of the United States, which was formed by a coalition of families supported by academic institutions in the 1940’s and 1950’s. By engaging trusted institutions to work with families of IDD individuals in Liberia, Arc Mercer would gain understanding of what services would be needed and a culturally-appropriate way to deliver them.
Acquisition of resources in the Trenton, NJ metropolitan area to facilitate the creation of a community for Liberian citizens participating in the program. Through a visa program, they would be brought to the US, trained in Arc Mercer’s world-class service delivery system, paid, and supported by religious, community, and academic institutions. Arc Mercer would provide transitional housing, competitive wages, benefits, and world-class training to build skills and abilities that would benefit the service delivery organizations in the US temporarily, and the nascent organization forming in Liberia in the long term.
Establishment of a service delivery system in Liberia in which program participants would work upon their return to their home country. To reach this stage, support will be needed from global institutions such as pharmaceutical and logistics companies to bring needed medication to those being served and the staff and families providing the services.
Investment by The Arc Mercer
The Arc Mercer is an approximately $30 million dollar organization governed by a highly engaged Board of Directors. The Board consists of community members, many with family members in Arc Mercer programs, who provide advice, oversight, and consent for all aspects of the agency’s operation. As a show of commitment, the Board has authorized an initial investment of up to $25,000 to fund the creation of the necessary NGO, securing of legal counsel, and initial deposits in international banks. Subsequent investments of funds will be appropriated for research, grant requests, and infrastructure expenditures.
The total cost of this project will likely exceed $10 Million including capital investments domestically and overseas, staff payroll and benefits costs, and administrative expenses.
Measures of Success
A central tenant of The Arc Mercer’s five-year Strategic Plan is the opening of five additional residential homes each year, which will result in a near doubling of the agency’s size in five years. To accomplish this, highly-trained staff will be required to facilitate the 24/7 care that is offered.
Currently, The Arc Mercer enjoys an employee turnover rate of less than 15% as compared to the 35.5% reported by the State of New Jersey for this field. Successful implementation of the visa and training aspects of this project would result in a steady decline in employee vacancy, while the community aspects would maintain our low turnover rate.
Given the popularity of similar projects undertaken in Minnesota to address a nursing shortage, it is expected that Arc Mercer may be able to offer trained participants placement in other human service agencies throughout New Jersey once the immediate needs are met.