Volunteering at JARCapalooza May 16: Brooke Dunn, Stacey Duczowski, Abbey Katchke and Laura Friedman, all residents of the Gilbert Home

JARC, a nonprofit provider of residential services for individuals with developmental disabilities based in Farmington Hills, is considering a merger with Progressive Lifestyles Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Waterford.

Founded in 1984, Progressive Lifestyles serves 105 people in 27 homes in Oakland County and has a very positive reputation.

JARC, established in 1969, has an extensive, devoted group of supporters who share its mission of “enriching lives and erasing barriers.” The agency has been holding meetings with family members, donors and staff to discuss the merger proposal. According to a “re-cap” communication sent to families in October, the JARC is seriously considering a merger both to improve its financial outlook and to secure a permanent CEO.

David Carroll, JARC’s board president, has also served as its interim CEO for the past year.

According to the summary document, JARC had significant financial losses in 2014 and 2015. In fiscal year 2017, which ended Sept. 30, JARC lost “about $90,000,” which was “a great improvement over the prior three years” but includes several one-time revenue sources.

This financial progress was attributed to a range of operational improvements, some recommended by John Williams, Progressive’s CEO, who has provided extensive consulting help to JARC during the past year. However, all residential service agencies face increasing fiscal constraints going forward.

“Medicaid funding [which represents most of JARC’s funding] is inadequate and it is a challenge to get government funding. This merger would help us be as efficient as possible while providing high-quality care,” Carroll explains.

In addition to declining government revenues, JARC’s financial situation is also affected by the cost and difficulty of staffing. The agency receives about $9.50 per hour for direct care staff, but actually pays staff members $10.50 per hour. Nonetheless, staff shortages exist.

“People can work at Target with less stress and fewer responsibilities and make more money,” says Rena Friedberg, JARC’s chief philanthropy officer.

Also, JARC provides residents with more direct care support hours than are covered by government revenue. Fundraising, especially an annual event held this year on Nov. 6, makes up some of this difference.

One reason more staff support is required is the aging of JARC residents, some of whom are now in their eighties. As individuals reach 60 and beyond, they have more medical needs, doctors’ appointments and may require end-of-life care. This requires more staff and constant training, Friedberg says.

“We are providing more than four walls and meals,” she says.

Progressive Lifestyles was chosen for a potential merger because of its similar range of services in Oakland County and its strong reputation. Merger discussions had been held with both Kadima and JVS, but did not work out.

“John Williams is an expert operator,” Carroll says. “Our families and staff know them. Williams has consulted closely with JARC. We got to know him well and he got to know us well. They have the same regulations and same public funding.”

Joyce Keller, JARC’s CEO from 1978 to 2008, says Progressive Lifestyles “has high-quality service. It’s an excellent provider. Williams is a terrific guy, a key opinion leader in the field.”

According to Williams, “A merger would provide greater depth of personnel and the combined operations would yield back-room savings. Medicaid might be reduced or change to state block grants. There is a lot of discussion about consolidation and cooperation.”

He, too, is holding meetings to explain to families what Progressive is considering. Progressive’s services are not identical to those offered by JARC and the organization does not own any of its homes as JARC does. All of its funding is from the government.

Carroll says, “We’ve been pretty open, giving people time to deliberate and visit the other organization’s homes.”

If approved by both organizations, Progressive Lifestyles would merge into JARC under JARC’s name and current board, although with the possible addition of a few Progressive board members. JARC’s staffing, Jewish programming and kosher food would continue unchanged.

Parents’ Reactions
Allan and Harriet Gelfond of Farm-ington were among the initial parents’ group seeking options for their special needs children during the 1960s; their daughter is a JARC resident.

“There is a lot of logic, not only financial, to this merger. Progressive’s director runs a similar program and has been very active at JARC. JARC will be Jewish and kashrut will be followed,” Allan Gelfond says.

Ronelle Grier of West Bloomfield has a daughter who has lived in a JARC-staffed home for a year; the home is owned by the parents of one resident. She is also positive about the prospect of a merger.

“Parents were assured there won’t be a big change and people won’t be moved around. I feel fine about it because it’s someone with expertise in areas they don’t have. I trust the administration to do what’s in the best interest of JARC and those they serve.”

Carroll expects the JARC board to vote on the merger in a few weeks. If approved, a due diligence process would be completed before a final agreement.

More About JARC
Mission: To enrich the lives of people with developmental disabilities through gentle and loving support, valued
relationships and engagement with the community, in accordance with Jewish values.

History: JARC was founded in 1969 by a small group of parents concerned about their children’s future. From 1970 to 1975, it operated as the Association for the Jewish Retarded, when it opened its first group home in Detroit. From 1976 to 1990, the organization operated as the Jewish Association for Retarded Citizens (JARC) and then became simply JARC.

Services: 180 people with disabilities receive residential and support services in 80 residential locations in Oakland County.

  • Residential housing: 118 adults live in 30 fully staffed homes and condominiums (19 are JARC-owned; the others are privately owned).
  • Independent living: 43 individuals live with varying degrees of JARC support in 34 locations.
  • 19 families receive respite care for family members living at home.

Finances: Annual budget is $10.2
million, 70 percent from government funding (mainly Medicaid), and 30 percent from individual, corporate and foundation donations. JARC receives no funds from the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.

Employment: JARC has 252 staff members, 229 of whom work in residential and other programs.

Source: JARC and Detroit Jewish News Foundation Digital Archive