The Arc highlights programs during Disability Awareness Month


When Sarah Schrelick started volunteering with the Arc of Jackson County she was still paying for Pull-ups and wipes for her 6-year old son, who has a disability, causing financial stress on her and her family.

Melanie O’Neal, the Arc’s executive director, stepped in to help Schrelick find resources to cover the cost of Pull-ups, but she didn’t stop there.

“We aren’t going to stop at the Pull-ups. We are going to go for the wipes too,” she said.

O’Neal said this is just one example of how The Arc of Jackson County helps families become more financially stable by providing resources and options to better support their loved one with special needs.

The Arc of Jackson County was formed in 1960 and is a non-profit organization that works to advocate for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and provides resources to them and their families. They also are a partner agency with the Jackson County United Way.

March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month which is meant to raise awareness of the inclusion and contributions of people with developmental disabilities in all aspects of community life. It also serves as a time to explore the work still needed to remove barriers.

When O’Neal joined the The Arc board six years ago, the organization held social functions and educational meetings, but those events were not well attended.

“We started to think about what we could do and how we could get out there more,” she said.

O’Neal said an important part of their work is connecting families with direct service providers and providing referral services for them. The Arc serves all of Jackson County and even bleeds over into Jennings County, which has expressed a great need for their services.

“We collaborate with community members, families and businesses which helps provide funding for us to do the things we do,” she said. “With these collaborations we have also gained limitless volunteers.”

Some local resources The Arc provides referrals and information about include ABA therapy, day programs and job training.

Besides providing local and state resources for families, The Arc also provides a variety of social opportunities for those with special needs.

Night to Shine, a one-of-a-kind prom experience for those with special needs aged 14 and older, has become a highlight of the year for most involved. This event, sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation and Seymour Christian Church, is designed as a prom attendees will never forget.

“It is a lot of work, but so heartwarming,” O’Neal said.

Dee Hess, a member of The Arc board of directors, and Delta Delta sorority, said seeing the joy on everyone’s faces that night is priceless.

The Arc also has been part of making local parks safe and accessible for those with mobility issues.

Currently on Phase 3 of their park project, The Arc has been able to install musical sensory playground equipment, an accessible We Go Round merry-go-round and pour-in-place flooring that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act at Gaiser Park thanks to an Indiana Department of Health grant.

“We plan to have a big ribbons cutting ceremony once its finished,” she said.

In April, The Arc will once again begin their Achieving Right Choices program that is geared toward providing mental health and support to special need students and staff in the classroom.

This interactive program is designed to discuss feelings, emotions and how to respond to them in a healthy way. This program also provides information to students about The Arc so their families can learn about the services the agency offers.

Program manager Stefani Spall said last year the program visited six classroom and will visit 18 classrooms this year in Jackson County along with the day program at Developmental Services Inc.

“This program is so important because this is how we reach the families,” O’Neal said. “It’s also a lot of fun and gives the teachers a little break.”

In April, The Arc will serve around 195 school-aged clients through the program by providing inclusive education and school and personal items to staff and students if needed.

Another program The Arc offers is Friendship Special Needs Bible Study that allows people with special needs to learn about God and socialize with others.

The program is offered during the school year at Redeemer Lutheran Church on Mondays and also in the summer time at Seymour Christian Church.

For Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, The Arc is planning various activities to make the month special.

They will be delivering goodie bags filled with sensory items, stickers and a thank you card that will be delivered to classrooms, therapy companies and group homes.

The Arc is also is looking for any food certificate donations to put toward a drawing for clients to win a special treat. They also plan to post information regarding resources and education throughout the month on social media.

“We are constantly thinking of ways to make The Arc known while also providing a service,” O’Neal said.

Board president Beth White said new this year to the board is a fundraising committee that will help navigate what fundraisers are the most profitable.

Also on the board are five self-advocate members, who speak up for the special need individuals who can’t speak for themselves.

Dylan Bridges has been a self-advocate board member for three years and enjoys participating in the fun activities The Arc provides.

“I feel very confident in our new leadership and committees to own their responsibilities and put in the work,” O’Neal said.

O’Neal said she is proud to have seen many changes over the decades for people with disabilities and is thankful for a community that is behind them.

O’Neal gave an example for one of their clients, Tony Greathouse. When he was a student, Greathouse was not allowed in public school because he had special needs and instead went to what was called the Sunshine school.

“I am most proud that here locally we have grown so much that there is inclusion instead of exclusion,” she said. “Eating in the same cafeteria and the chance to be a part of sports did not happen during Tony Greathouse’s day.”

O’Neal said The Arc continues to combat financial challenges by constantly grant writing and receiving community support through donations.

“I am proud that our community has accepted that there is a need and are bringing more resources to this community,” she said.

During this month, The Arc is not only providing resources and education for families in need, but what is probably the most important, an ear to listen.

“We have a valuable resource and its that we are here to listen and we understand,” she said.

Information and resources may be found on The Arc of Jackson County website at

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