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The Arc Pikes Peak Region celebrates differing abilities

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A few of the “really cool and fun” clients of the Arc. - COURTESY THE ARC
  • Courtesy The ARC
  • A few of the “really cool and fun” clients of the Arc.
The Arc Pikes Peak Region is part of one of the largest civil rights organizations in the United States, one of 730 chapters nationwide that protect the interests of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The movement began in the mid 1950s after a long trend of institutionalizing and segregating individuals with mental and physical disabilities from the general population. The Arc advances its message of equality through multiple advocacy programs that encompass issues prevalent in the criminal justice system and public education. It also encourages community involvement and offers adult guardianship.

“Living in our society, we often learn to look at all the inabilities of a person instead of all of the things they can do,” says Wilfred Romero, executive director of The Arc Pikes Peak Region. “Our goal is to change the culture through education and start showing the abilities of individuals with impairments.”

The Arc inspires community engagement through social activities, like a recent Halloween dance held at the City Auditorium, and raises awareness through a springtime film festival with projects produced and starring individuals with “differing abilities.”

“People think they’re going to see some really cute things,” says Romero. “They walk away and say, ‘wow, what a film’ because of the quality and the story that they tell.”

Andy Kwiatkowski, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and part of The Arc family, uses the platform to showcase his award-winning documentary Lonely Highway, which he created through The Youth Documentary Academy. “I have autism or you can say, I’m autistic,” says Kwiatkowski. “It’s difficult for me to create social relationships, have conversations. What if I could tell the story of the challenges and the success I had with this disorder?”

Kwiatkowski chronicles his journey through his favorite medium and credits The Arc as a conduit that enables him to follow his passion. “I believe there are opportunities for everyone out there to pursue a degree or an interest of theirs that they desperately love,” he says. “They can feel proud of what they’re doing and The Arc can help them get there.”

The Arc will continue to encourage life and job skills with a planned $2.5 million renovation of their current offices at 10 and 12 N. Meade Ave. that it calls “Building for Change.” It will provide an accessible new structure — a state-of-the-art conference room for those with vision, hearing and mobility impairments; a personal development program to provide cooking classes and teach domestic skills; a computer lab with job application assistance; a library, and a multipurpose room for arts and crafts, physical activities and health care.

“We want Building for Change to be an anchor in our community,” says Romero. “To truly be a city on the rise and an inclusive community, the individuals with disabilities need to be a part of that.”

The Arc receives no state or federal funding; 85 percent of its financial backing comes from its local thrift stores. “We are really the purpose behind the shopping,” says Romero.

As The Arc grows, Romero hopes that more community members will choose to associate themselves with the organization to help alleviate the stigma and labeling that produce and tolerate divisiveness.

“We want the community to make it the norm to be part of what we’re doing instead of making special exceptions,” says Romero. “We hope that more of our community will see what they’re really missing out on. It’s the failure of us to really get to know those folks and see how really cool and fun they are. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

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