JARC celebrates 50 years of ensuring quality of life for those with developmental disabilities.
When a group of Jewish parents of developmentally disabled children met in 1969 to discuss their children’s future, they didn’t anticipate starting one of the Jewish community’s most cherished agencies.
“None of us could have imagined what the organization would become,” says Sharon Alterman, who staffed recreational programs for individuals with developmental disabilities at the Jewish Community Center, then located at Curtis and Meyers in Detroit. She later joined the board of what became the Jewish Association for Retarded Citizens (later renamed JARC) and served as its president.
Longevity and commitment are common themes among JARC staff, volunteers and even residents. Chief philanthropy officer Rena Friedberg is retiring this year after 37 years at JARC. Board president Howard Luckoff says he has served on the board for 16 years but has been a supporter “forever.” Some longtime employees have helped residents who have lived in JARC homes for decades, including at least one resident from the first group home that opened in 1972.
Today, hundreds of families rely on JARC’s services that help adults with developmental disabilities be independent and enjoy the highest possible quality of life. CEO Shaindle Braunstein, appointed in 2018, says that 190 individuals live in 30 group homes and in other residential settings with varying degrees of staff support. Many others benefit from JARC’s group recreational activities, as well as respite care and other services for families with members who have developmental disabilities.
JARC’s annual budget is $13 million, including about $3 million raised through philanthropy.
The organization began at a time when government institutions for individuals with developmental disabilities were beginning to close, Alterman says, and parents were worried about who would care for their adult children when they were unable to do so. She was assigned to help a group of parents who formed the Parents Association for Jewish Residential Care in 1969. A few years later, the first JARC group home opened with six men and women residents, Alterman says. JVS and JFS were both involved with the home’s residents and the program was a “collaborative community effort.”
More homes soon followed but community reaction to them was not always positive in the early years. One home in Pleasant Ridge was fire bombed, Alterman recalls. JARC makes special efforts to maintain their group homes and be good neighbors.
Joyce Keller joined the organization as executive director in 1978. She “took the organization to great heights” during her decades of leadership, according to Alterman. “People had a great quality of care.”
A Good Life
Bob Boesky, 86, a retired CPA who lives in Florida, is one of the parents grateful for the constant care provided for his daughter Julie, 57, who has lived at JARC residences since she was 18. “It has been an incredibly good experience for her and our family. JARC has made her life good for her,” he says. This is her second JARC home and Boesky says that she has been happy at both.
Boesky became connected with JARC when he did some accounting work there while Keller was executive director. His daughter was living at another organizational group home but when JARC had an opening, she moved. Julie works at JVS on a mobile crew that cleans apartments, which she likes, Boesky says.
Her future was a serious worry for him after his first wife passed away; his other children don’t live in the Detroit area. While there have been changes over the years, Boesky says that everything is working out. “JARC has made her life as close to perfect as it can be,” he says.
One of the major changes affecting JARC in recent years is the aging of some group home residents. Friedberg says that 50 to 60 percent are now more than 60 years old.
“They have the challenges of aging we all have so there is a need for more staff,” Braunstein says. JARC’s goal, she says, is for residents to remain at home throughout their lives, avoiding nursing homes and hospitals.
“Staffing is always a challenge; and this is not easy work. It’s a national issue,” Friedberg says. JARC is committed to paying its direct support staff more than the allotment provided by Medicaid contracts — the source of most JARC funding — both as a form of equity for valued workers and to attract and recruit good staff members.
To help with staff recruitment and retention, JARC offers a comprehensive benefit package and a full employee assistance program, as well as vacations and guaranteed shift scheduling, which most other service agencies don’t have, Braunstein says.
“Providing staff and funding for state-of-the-art facilities and programs is an ongoing challenge,” Luckoff says. About 75 percent of JARC’s funding is governmental; and Braunstein describes Medicaid as “a moving target.”
However, Luckoff says JARC’s financial situation is “very stable” and that it “has recovered or is on the road to recovery” from previous financial issues.
JARC’s recent annual fundraiser Nov. 3 featuring the band Earth, Wind and Fire raised $1.8 million from about 1,500 participants, he says, inspired partly by JARC’s 50th anniversary. Luckoff adds that JARC’s donor base has increased by 300 this year.
Philanthropy is essential for services and staffing that are not covered by government funding — the social and recreational outings, holiday celebrations and other features that make JARC residences true homes.
Leadership is actively seeking ways to enhance services and operations especially through partnerships and collaborations. Earlier this year, JARC downsized, moving into the Max M. Fisher Federation Building after selling its Farmington Hills headquarters. As a Federation tenant, JARC can share some building services with other agencies.
JARC has enhanced the energy efficiency of its homes through a contact Luckoff made with DTE Energy. Luckoff inquired whether JARC, as a nonprofit, might qualify for special rates. A rate waiver wasn’t possible but DTE has provided energy-efficient water heaters, furnaces and light bulbs for JARC homes with a value of close to $250,000 to reduce energy costs.
Improved operations are also the goal for developing an electronic medical record system. This initiative, supported by the Jewish Fund, will help improve staff scheduling and workflow for greater efficiency and better service.
JARC and the Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network are working together to help residents at the end of their lives. The Friendship Circle is another recent partner as JARC offers seminars and counseling for parents of children with developmental disabilities. The intent is to help them prepare for their children’s transition into adulthood.
JARC is taking the lead in planning a meeting with 14 similar Jewish service agencies around the country. “We want to learn from each other to advance best practices and reduce costs,” Luckoff says.
Looking ahead, Luckoff is confident and focused on JARC’s continued success. He views its strengths as “a great board, a phenomenal CEO and a culture of open-mindedness. We need to provide the best services and make sure we take care of our community.”