We are incredibly thankful for the support we have received from our community partners, People’s United Community Foundation and American Savings Foundation. With their help, we have strengthened our ability to offer virtual services that are engaging and impactful to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).
At the onset of the pandemic, MARC worked hard to find and purchase PPE, hand sanitizers, and cleaning supplies and quickly changed focus to improving air quality, ensuring adequate space and ventilation, and finding creative ways to offer services. We needed thermometers, acrylic dividers, air purifiers, HVAC upgrades, filters, and UV lights for programs to reopen safely. Yet, the increasing demand for virtual programming, not covered by existing funding, was evident. This need became critical to the continuation of services.
People’s United Community Foundation has been supporting MARC and our mission since 2019. Their support of our Employment Services provided the necessary tools, including smart tablets, to further individuals’ skill development and create visual resumes that helped them find gainful employment. Their generosity continues to help pave the way for individuals living a life of independence and success. This year, they’ve demonstrated their dedication to our organization by providing us a grant for COVID-19 relief. And, thanks to People’s United Community Foundation’s generous $2,500 donation, we began purchasing the necessary equipment to develop a more robust and enriching virtual program.
American Savings Foundation, another loyal partner, recognized, too, the importance of technology to the I/DD community. First, they helped us expand our digital literacy program into a full-blown computer lab. Individuals now have the opportunity to work on their typing skills, learn how to open and read emails, search the web for jobs, and so much more. In 2020 we witnessed the pandemic’s effects on people with I/DD and the extreme isolation they faced. American Savings Foundation’s $3,500 donation allowed us to continue our programs and connect those at home with their peers.
“Virtual services help alleviate the social isolation that we are all feeling, which has always been an area of concern for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and now, even more so,” President/CEO Linda Iovanna explained. While we quickly pivoted to providing virtual services to those that chose not to return to the program, we discovered the challenges in creating a successful online format. It takes more than a laptop with a webcam or merely playing a video or reading a book. For a program to be engaging, entertaining with tangible, beneficial outcomes, it takes the right tools, research, and people. “Not only were we bringing programs to everyone at home, but we were also connecting them to their peers that were physically in the program. This created an added challenge,” said Iovanna.
Thanks to the gracious dedication from People’s United Community Foundation and American Savings Foundation, we’ve been able to purchase large-screen monitors, wide-angle webcams, and other equipment that improved the programs’ virtual experience and quality. Participants can connect from home, see their peers, and engage in fitness and skill development sessions; examples include sign language, yoga, cooking, and a book club.
When safe again, MARC will resume community outings and activities. However, given the unexpected benefits we have discovered with this platform, we may continue to provide this service. According to Iovanna, “Some folks are more interactive and vocal during a virtual session than when they attend in-person. They’ve developed more confidence and a desire to experience and learn more.”
We could not achieve such growth during these times of need if it weren’t for our amazing supporters. It is an honor to have them by our side, empowering our community together.