Families

One number helps all children lead fulfilling lives

Lauren Gongwer, left, plays with Bill Lay’s beard at The ARC of Whatcom County's 2015 Smiles of Life calendar release party at the Squalicum Boathouse in Bellingham.
Lauren Gongwer, left, plays with Bill Lay’s beard at The ARC of Whatcom County's 2015 Smiles of Life calendar release party at the Squalicum Boathouse in Bellingham. eabell@bhamherald.com

The passion that Beverly Porter feels for the rights of people with disabilities is reflected in this statement:

“Disability is a natural part of human diversity,” she says.

For five years as executive director of The Arc of Whatcom County, Porter has worked to make sure people with disabilities are included in a wide variety of services and activities for people from birth to old age.

She earlier learned about The Arc (which stands for Advocates for the Rights of Citizens) as a volunteer, beginning 17 years ago, and then as a part-time staffer for this organization, whose local roots go back 80 years.

Our parent coalition provides family friendly, understandable information about social and education services and systems.

Beverly Porter, The Arc of Whatcom County executive director

Porter feels strongly that the sooner children with Down syndrome, autism, developmental delays, cerebral palsy and other disabilities can receive early intervention, especially from birth to 3 years old, the better chance these children have to live fulfilling lives.

She says about 1,100 county residents have been deemed eligible to receive help from the Developmental Disability Administration, which is part of the state’s Department of Social and Health Service.

“It’s estimated there about 2,000 county residents who could qualify,” she says, noting that children 12 and under make up about half the clients of the Developmental Disability Administration.

Porter is thrilled to see how effective a group called Whatcom Taking Action, for which The Arc is lead fiscal agency, has been in directing children and youth with special health care needs to receive support and information by calling one number to get the process going in order to receive help from any of more than two dozen community service providers.

“We call it SEAS, which stands for Single Entry Access to Services,” said Porter. “People can call one number. Our care navigators can provide an amazing amount of information.” The number is 360-715-7485.

The care navigators who serve Whatcom Taking Action are trained to answer pretty much any question about specific ways to get help for specific issues.

For all people, including children 12 and under, The Arc offers a parent coalition, Down syndrome outreach, young adult self-advocacy for those 16-30 with developmental disabilities, a program of inclusion advocacy and disability awareness along with the services of Whatcom Taking Action.

“Our parent coalition provides family friendly, understandable information about social and education services and systems,” Porter said.

The Arc has major activities for children with disabilities, including its “Spring Fling,” a family picnic in May at Fairhaven Park, and its “Buddy Walk,” an early October community awareness-building event based on Fairhaven’s Village Green.

“More than 400 people participated last October, enjoying the music of the band Out of the Ashes, a special lunch and a mile and a half walk through Fairhaven,” she said. “People see families of people with Down syndrome show that they live here, work here and go to school here.”

Porter, stressing the importance of a philosophy of inclusion in education, notes that the United States Congress has made it clear that “all children have the right to a free and appropriate public education and they will be educated with their peers.”

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