When I was a college student in upstate New York, a friend invited me to check out a Thursday night recreational program for people with disabilities. Volunteers would spend one-on-one time with someone with a disability, doing things like bowling or playing basketball.
Eventually, I was paired with an adult named Robert. And what I learned from the time I spent with Robert, is that people with challenges, are just like you and me. Robert wanted to have fun and be free to make decisions in his life and do the things he liked to do. Things like where to live and where to work.
Little did I know that those Thursday nights would lead me to a lifetime of service. And I am so grateful it did. Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” That saying rings true for me. For thirty-seven years I have been assisting and supporting people with disabilities to achieve their fullest potential.
Currently, I am the president and CEO of the ARC of Martin County and St. Lucie County. I have been in this role for 19 years. ARC stands for “Advocates for the Rights of the Challenged” and our mission is to empower children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to achieve their fullest potential through residential, vocational, educational, behavioral, and other healthcare-related services.
Over the years, I have worked with both private and public sectors building residential homes and vocational training programs for people with disabilities to live and work competitively within their communities. These places give them independence and allow them to rely less on government subsidies. Thousands of people have benefited from these programs which enabled them to make worthy contributions to their communities.
I share this with you to highlight the opportunities we all have to make a life-changing impact within our communities and to encourage others to lend a helping hand. The last few years have been tough on all of us. Our lives have been turned upside down. Many people lost loved ones to the pandemic. Others lost jobs and businesses creating financial stress and turmoil.
I lost my son, Nicholas, two years ago. He had been bravely living with his own disability. Losing him has made me more aware and focused on helping others. Families who have loved ones with special needs do not always know where to turn for support. That’s what ARC does. It helps children, adults, and families overcome their challenges and find solutions to their problems.
ARC is just one agency that could use a helping hand. Of course, we need monetary donations to deal with higher inflationary costs, just like all of you. But we also need people with passion and heart. We need volunteers and future leaders with skills and talents who can help with a variety of things like driving, training, or assisting at fundraising events.
Donating your time by helping a neighbor may not solve all your problems, but I guarantee it will make you feel better. Instead of scrolling through social media posts or watching the news or another reality TV show, try helping someone else who really needs you. That is a powerful opportunity and a rewarding one.
Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
Imagine replacing anger with compassion. Impatience with empathy. Anxiety with reassurance. Doubt with belief. We all have the power within us.
Please consider reaching out to a not-for-profit like ARC and see what you can do to help. Bring your family or a friend. I’m so grateful my friend in college invited me to get involved. It changed my life forever.
Keith Muniz is the president and CEO of the ARC of Martin County and St. Lucie County. The ARC, (Advocates for the Rights of the Challenged) is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization dedicated to empowering children and adults with I/DD through residential, vocational, educational, behavioral, and other healthcare services. For more information about ARC visit www.arcmc.org or call 772-283-2525.
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