An Invitation to Help Others Achieve
Helping Others achieve is what the The Arc Tampa Bay Foundation is all about! Learn more why Destination Tampa Bay wants to highlight one of Tampa Bays finest Helping Hands! Since she was a small child, Madison Orr Hauenstein has seen firsthand what individuals can do to make a difference in others’ lives. She and her three siblings watched her parents get involved in the community through fundraisers and events to raise awareness for what was then UPARC, now known as The Arc Tampa Bay.
RESOURCES TO INDIVIDUALS WITH INTELLECTUAL AND DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITIES
Then and now, the organization’s core mission has been to deliver rehabilitative programs and resources to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Orr Hauenstein’s parents were involved early on as volunteers for over 20 years! In the early stages, the original group of six Bay area couples launch a popular fundraiser for the organization, The Omelette Party, which celebrated its 52nd year in April 2019 and has raised over $3 million for the organization over the five-plus decades.
Madison Orr Hauenstein (Right) is now in her fourth year as Executive Director for The Arc Tampa Bay Foundation, the nonprofit arm of The Arc Tampa Bay which continues to provide innovative and rehabilitative programs monthly to over 1,800 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as resources supporting their families, guardians and caregivers. As Orr Hauenstein reflects on her early engagement with the group, she recalls her parents volunteering with the organization and making and exception during some of the Omelette Party to allow their four children to stay home from school to be part of an event held just prior to the black-tie formal fundraiser, a pre-Omelette Party designed specifically for the young people being directly supported by the benefit. She and her siblings would greet the young guests at buses, help distribute snacks and refreshments, visit and dance with the attendees, and serve as junior hosts for this preliminary event. The experience left a positive, lasting impression.
“I didn’t realize it at the time that the impact of that stuck with me to this day,” she says. “I quickly grew a soft spot for the population that we serve and the mission for this organization.”
A FOUNDATION SEEKS TO EDUCATE AND RAISE AWARENESS
For over 30 years, the Clearwater-based foundation has sought to raise the community’s awareness of The Arc Tampa Bay’s financial needs and its achievements in improving the lives of a population often overlooked by their communities. Much of Orr Hauenstein’s work at The Arc Tampa Bay Foundation goes into educating both individuals and businesses about their clients and dispelling myths. (Photo left Arc Tampa Bay Fundraisers)
“A big misconception about fundraising is that people think they must have a substantial amount of wealth to be a philanthropist in the community and make a difference, and that’s just not the case,” she says. “Anybody can give of their time or other resources available to them and still make a significant difference if they want.”
She has found that sometimes what can stand in the way of a person’s involvement is their lack of experience interacting with the population The Arc Tampa Bay serves and people who are facing intellectual or developmental challenges. For this reason, Orr Hauenstein makes it a mission to get new people out to the campuses on a regular basis for tours and to open an honest line of communication to address any fears or discomfort about unfamiliar people and settings. (Photo right of Volunteer With Donnie)
“Some people are not comfortable interacting with the individuals that we care for because they have not experienced it before. I want people to know that this is okay. It’s alright to admit that you’re not sure what to say. People should give themselves a little grace,” Orr Hauenstein says. “All of us try so much to be careful and respectful of people’s differences that sometimes we don’t want to admit that we’re not comfortable with people different than us. I’ve found if I lead with that, it can be extremely helpful.”
In July, The Arc Tampa Bay Foundation kicked off a new business-targeted program Arc Friendly Action to encourage local businesses to foster more acceptance and inclusiveness for another sect of the potential working population. Local businesses can sign up for the free program and members of The Arc Tampa Bay team will work closely with them to provide basic training and exposure to communicating and interacting with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “It’s a way for businesses to adopt a new mindset and become more socially conscious and inclusive of others who may look different than them,” Orr Hauenstein says. (Photo left is of Arc Tampa Bay Fun Day)
The Arc Tampa Bay Foundation launched in 1981 under the leadership of a local geriatric physician and philanthropist, Dr. William E. Hale (Right). It is one of 32 chapters of The Arc in Florida and the largest chapter in the state. In all, there are 700 chapters of The Arc across the U.S., each operating independently based on the population it serves. Because the organization is represented across the country, families can consider what chapters of The Arc may exist in a state prior to moving and research what programs and services may be available to their child in the specific community.
Though she has been involved with The Arc Tampa Bay for much of her life, Orr Hauenstein officially joined the Foundation in 2012, first serving in roles to support the group’s marketing and development goals including its official rebranding and name change three years ago from UPARC and UPARC Foundation to The Arc Tampa Bay and The Arc Tampa Bay Foundation.
THE ARC TAMPA BAY, DAY TO DAY
On any given day, The Arc Tampa Bay serves as many as 300 individuals. It offers services across three core areas: day programs, residential programs and supportive employment services. Day programs are available on three campuses – The Long Center in Clearwater, Harborside Studios in Safety Harbor focused primarily on the arts, and a Tarpon Springs campus offering adult day programs and services for northern Pinellas and southern Pasco county residents. Classes are offered in a school-like setting during which students arrive by 8 a.m. or 8:30 a.m. and stay until 2 p.m., taking part in meaningful activities and exploring a range of study areas based on their interests and abilities including music therapy, art, cooking, crafts, current events, and physical activities coordinated in conjunction with Special Olympics.
One of The Arc Tampa Bay’s largest daily operations is its residential programs comprised of 18 group homes and one apartment complex available for residents capable of sustaining more independent living, administering their own medications and who are either working, going to school or volunteering in the community. The group homes are staffed 24/7 by a few staff shifts with all meals prepared and activities overseen by staff members with a fleet of vehicles on hand to transport resident in the group homes back and forth to classes and other offsite activities.
The Arc Tampa Bay and its Foundation also support the population it serves by providing services to those with higher functioning abilities to obtain employment. The organization helps candidates prepare for employment interviews, build resumes and work with a job coach, even offering support post-hire for a few months to help them with keeping the job.
“We’re predominantly a service organization but we also want to be a source of full support to family members, caregivers and guardians who are taking care of these individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We’re providing them with resources and connections in the community so they can locate the support they need,” Orr Hauenstein says.
MEET THE FIGURSKIS
The Figurski family knows firsthand how beneficial the programs can be at The Arc Tampa Bay. When Jerry and Melody Figurski moved to the Bay area from Ohio in 1975 with then 3-year-old Tracy, they knew that it was imperative to find supportive services for their daughter. As a baby, Tracy had difficulty participating in breastfeeding and suffered a hip injury and minor seizure that first showed up as a slight twitch of her arm. Their doctor as well as a specialist had alerted them that there could be early signs of brain injury or developmental issues but were unable to determine how severe. (Melody, Jerry, and Tracy Figurski right)
The couple made up their minds to take Tracy’s path one step at a time. Upon moving to the Bay area, the Figurskis enrolled Tracy in a church preschool, but after a teacher informed them that the toddler was having trouble keeping up with the rest of the class, her parents enrolled her in a school that was then part of the UPARC program where she attended five days a week.
“It was tough to let her go and to admit that she needed that special care,” Melody Figurski says. “We came to terms with the decision and did what was best for Tracy, and it has turned out to be a fabulous experience.” Over 40 years later, Tracy continues to take part in The Arc Tampa Bay’s day program services as well as its residential program. Her parents describe their daughter as social, fun and interesting, a young woman with a remarkably good memory and someone who can sing the words to almost any song that plays on the radio, something dad Jerry attributes to the music programs at The Arc Tampa Bay.
The Figurskis (left) say one of the most difficult decisions they faced as Tracy became of adult age was the decision to keep Tracy living at home or enroll her at a group residence. They admit they struggled with the decision at first until a past executive director reminded them that if it were their younger son David who did not face developmental challenges heading off to college, they would not hesitate to let him live on campus.
“He reminded us that Tracy would want to live independently, too, and asked us ‘shouldn’t she get the same choice?’ We decided we would try it,” Melody says. “It was a blessing to Tracy. She grew more because of it. At the group residence, they encourage you to be more independent. When she was home, I did everything for her – make her bed, fix her hair, but there, she had to learn to become responsible for herself.”
Through The Arc Tampa Bay programs, Tracy enjoys swimming once a week, participating in music therapy and drumming classes, as well as cooking. “She has a great time. She has learned so much and is so much more mature. I think it’s been a benefit to her and it’s comforting to me to know that she’s happy,” Melody says.
THE TAMPA BAY ARC FOUNDATION AND ITS FUTURE
Orr-Hauenstein says The Arc Tampa Bay Foundation continues to look for new ways to enhance its core programs and additional community partnerships. Earlier this year, the organization expanded its children’s programs to include an ABA Therapy Clinic to provide services for children ages 2-18 on the autism spectrum, offering one-on-one therapy from a behavioral analyst and access to other resources. “It’s wonderful to have these kids back on our campus to receive these services they really need and to make a significant impact on their lives. It’s one of the most proven therapies that a child can receive in relation to early intervention if they’ve received a diagnosis of autism,” she says.
For those interested in getting involved with The Arc Tampa Bay Foundation, Orr Hauenstein notes the various ways people can support the organization and make a difference. These include signing up to volunteer or lead a class series at one of the campuses, donating to the group, and attending or sponsoring one of the Foundation’s signature fundraisers. In the fall, the group holds its popular Festival of Trees event November 22-24 (more details coming soon); next February, Wings, Wheels & Wine; in the spring, the Omelette Party; and in the summer, Special Art by Special Hands (click here to read about this year’s event held earlier this year).
As for the Figurskis, dad Jerry says that Tracy continues enjoying the programs offered by The Arc Tampa Bay and their family gets together as often as they can. They take part in fundraisers and other events as a family to benefit The Arc Tampa Bay Foundation, go out to dinner and attend special events like Bucs preseason games as they did earlier this year. But at the end of the night, as tempting as it is to keep her at home, Tracy has even expressed to them that home for her is the group residence where she lives. Jerry and Melody say they could not ask for a better program than what The Arc Tampa Bay has given their family. (Figurski Family Brother David And Kids)
“Tracy has activities that are hers. She has friends that are hers. She’s growing because we’re not waiting on her,” Melody says. “It’s been a bonus for her and given us the opportunity to travel, too, when we have the opportunity. The Arc has given Tracy her own life, not just being a part of our life.”
By Chris Kuhn
Photos courtesy of The Arc Tampa Bay Foundation and Melody & Jerry Figurski