Why Membership is Important
By Jan Lampman
I have been a member of The Arc of Midland for 32 years. I became a member 7 years prior to working at The Arc because I supported the mission and membership made me feel like I was part of the work or the organization along with the civil rights movement that was so much a part of the identity of The Arc at the time. You see, I became a member of The Arc of Midland during a time when all across the country people with disabilities were fighting for the right to live, work and participate in their community. My first job was working with people who were leaving institutions for the first time, returning to communities that they left decades prior. Often people I served spoke of “escaping” from the institution and the lack of control in their own lives. It was deeply rewarding to stand alongside of these civil rights advocates as we worked together to close our state institutions and advocate for the Americans With Disabilities Act. The Arc of Midland played a critical role in the work of these self-advocates.
I remember traveling by van with Tom Williams, Keith Brooks and Genny Peterson to Washington DC in the fall of 1989. It was the first time leaving Michigan for both Tom and Keith. Both had grown up at the Mt. Pleasant Center (one of the last institutions to close in Michigan). We traveled together in that van to “March on Washington” in support of affordable, accessible housing and the Americans With Disabilities Act. The experience was life changing for all of us. Tom and Keith had never seen so many people who were like them, who had such strong voices. The leaders of the march provided a glimpse of what life could be like for them. They saw strength, resilience, leadership and independence in their fellow marchers. They heard stories of people like Ed Roberts and Justin Dart. Tom noted that if they could do the amazing things that they did with their lives, couldn’t he as well? Of course he could and he did.
Tom, Keith, Genny and I would not have been able to make that trip if not for financial support from The Arc of Midland. Tom lives in his own home, married the love of his life 30 years ago, enjoyed meaningful and gainful employment in his community and feels a sense of belonging to the Midland community. Tom points to that trip to Washington DC as a turning point for him in his quest for freedom and citizenship. Being a part of The Arc’s civil rights work has given Tom and others purpose and the support that they need to be true drivers in their own lives. Tom is one of the reasons that I came to work at The Arc 25 years ago. Tom is one of the reasons that I continue to be a member of The Arc of Midland and why I continue to promote membership of The Arc.
As a non-profit, it sometimes seems like we are always asking our donors and community for financial support. We have two large community events and we ask individuals and businesses to sponsor those activities. We ask civic organizations and foundations to fund specific programs and we get United Way Funding for some programs. We have a yearend luncheon and appeal to help raise needed funds for the work. Why, then must we also send out an appeal in the spring asking for yet more funding tied to “membership”. The reason is simple in my eyes. When you take that extra step to become a member, you add your voice to the thousands of other voices in Michigan and across the country, stating that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities matter. There is power in those numbers. The Arc of Midland is able to leverage our membership numbers and revenue to affiliate with the Arc of Michigan and the Arc US in their advocacy efforts at the state and federal level. When you see something that comes from The Arc US or The Arc Michigan claiming a victory as relates to the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, that victory is because of the power that is derived from the membership. Tom often reminisces about his days as an advocate. He will tell people that he helped get the institution in Mt. Pleasant closed. He is right he did. Just like Tom, as a member of The Arc, you can rightly say that you helped to create a community where people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are valued and offered every opportunity to be contributing citizens.
Our sponsorships, grants and other donations are very important to our operations – no doubt about that. However, contributing to the membership, while contributing to our financial strength, is even more meaningful because if contributes to the strength that only can come from good people doing good things for each other.