The Arc Kent County has deep roots in Kent County starting in the 1940’s. Before special education and community mental health services, families who had a child with intellectual or other developmental disabilities were told to drop their children off at an institution and forget about them. Many families in Kent County refused to accept this advice, and in 1947, five of these families banded together to create a childcare cooperative – a service that helped to keep their families intact. This cooperative led to further efforts and soon the five families had grown to fifty.
The fifty families incorporated the Lincoln Foundation on October 6, 1950, purchased an 80-acre farm on Crahen Road, and set about raising money to build a school. A founder of the Lincoln Foundation, Mrs. Margaret Heuvelhorst, recently provided The Arc with many historical papers showing that parents were denied help from the board of education initially. But, by late in the 1960’s, the operation of Lincoln School was transferred to the Grand Rapids Board of Education. At this time, the Lincoln Foundation was renamed The Kent County ARC (Association for Retarded Children).
This dynamic group of parents, with the help of Arc staff, went on to begin many programs. In the 1970’s, programs such as information and referral, testing and counseling, day programs, group homes and case management services were begun. The Arc members were involved in the development of workshops such as Northwest Center and Southeast Center, and group homes such as Fountain Street and Lake Drive Apartments. These programs were “spun off” to non-profit agencies as funding became available.
In the 1980’s, The Arc was able to concentrate on advocacy issues that affected people with intellectual disabilities. The staff and members were involved in special education advocacy, a parent-to-parent program, serving as volunteer representative payees and guardians, surveying residential needs, monitoring Muskegon Regional Center, participating in group home monitoring, and other activities. Bev Overeiner, past president of The Arc Kent County and mother of a son with intellectual disabilities reflects that, “There have been many parents and professionals who have continued to build on the foundation that was set in place years ago by those early “pioneers” – but these same dedicated people realized that our mission was not finished. They recognized that we must constantly strive to establish an inclusive partnership, through education and advocacy, so that all members of our community could live, learn, work and play together to the fullest extent of each person’s abilities and potential.”
In the 1990’s, The Arc continued its advocacy role, working on issues such as heading off cuts in special education, modification of the Michigan Mental Health Code, assisting parents who wanted inclusive education for their child with a developmental disability, managed care in mental health services, and more. Brooke Fuller, a board member of The Arc Kent County, says "Even with all of the services available today, a grassroots organization like The Arc is an essential part of ensuring people with developmental disabilities live meaningful lives in Kent County."
Even after sixty years, the cornerstone of The Arc Kent County is the people we serve – people with intellectual disabilities and their families who reside in Kent County.