By LISA CAPOBIANCO
What began in a one-room schoolhouse 60 years ago has now grown into community and supported living arrangements, a greenhouse, a restaurant, a vocational center and more—to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.
A private, non-profit United Way organization made up of parents, educators, professionals and volunteers, the Bristol Adult Resource Center, Inc. was incorporated in 1957 as an alternative to institutionalization. With funding from the United Way and the city of Bristol, programs were developed for 12 individuals in a one-room schoolhouse.
Today, BARC provides a variety of vocational, residential and day service options.
Out of the 150 individuals BARC serves in its day programs, 41are in BARC’s residential program, which includes both community and supported living arrangements. All residential programs promote greater independence in daily living skills, activities, household responsibilities and community involvement.
Looking back on BARC’s 60-year history, Executive Director Mary Etter said she is proud of the families who did not listen when they were told to send their children to an institution at the time.
“They really felt there was a better life available for their family members, and they created this organization to help provide that better life,” said Etter. “Families continue to trust us with the care of their family members, and I’m very proud of that trust.”
One family who has trusted BARC is Jane Brown and her 25-year-old son, Max.
When Max turned 21 years old, Brown searched statewide for the best program available for her son, who has severe autism. By far, said Brown, BARC was the best place for Max to transition into after attending River Street School in Windsor.
“It had such a different feel than the other places. It felt much more like family—a caring, comfortable place for my son,” said Brown, a West Hartford resident. “He made the transition to BARC very nicely.”
During the week, Max enjoys his time in BARC’s day and residential programs, which have allowed him to become more independent while engaging in a variety of recreational experiences like seeing a movie and bowling.
BARC also gives Max an opportunity for skills training, as he assists in the production of dog biscuits that the nonprofit sells.
“At the group home, he sees the other young people doing things, and he just falls right in and does them,” said Brown, adding how Max enjoys community outings. “I know that he is safe and happy at BARC, and that, for me as a parent, means the world.”
BARC will celebrate its 60th Anniversary through several planned events this year, including the annual Gala on May 9.
“We raised over $12,000 last year at the gala, and we’re hoping to significantly increase that this year,” said Etter, adding how BARC’s fundraising supports the recreation program.
The celebration will continue on May 20 during the second Annual Golf Tournament, which BARC will host again with another 60-year-old nonprofit that supports people with developmental disabilities: PARC. PARC invited BARC to team up with the event last year, and together both non-profits raised over $6,000, said Etter.
“Each agency has its separate strengths, yet we’re able to work together towards this common goal of fundraising,” said Etter.
BARC’s 60th anniversary is an exciting time for Etter, as she was appointed to the position of executive director in February. Etter began her work with BARC in October 2012 as the finance director before she became the associate executive director less than a year later.
“I’m really glad to be at this level because at this level,” said Etter, who has nearly three decades of experience working with nonprofits. “Now I get to be involved with our programs and all of the services we provide to the individuals we support. It’s very exciting.”
Reflecting on BARC’s 60-year history, Brown said the nonprofit’s ability to thrive for six decades in serving individuals with disabilities is an “enormous accomplishment.”
“Sixty years are a huge impact on families and on society,” said Brown.
Looking ahead, Etter hopes BARC will increase the number of people with disabilities it in the community. Besides the job readiness program, BARC offers a supported employment program that helps adults with developmental disabilities find and secure jobs at competitive wages. From bagging groceries to food prep to housekeeping, these community jobs include a variety of roles throughout the community.
“We’ve been doing a steady increase of that in the past couple of years, and I think we’ll continue that,” said Etter. “The shift nationally is a focus on employment, and I think that will help guide us to get these folks out in the community.”
Brown hopes to see BARC and other similar organizations continue to thrive, especially since the need has become more prevalent.
“There aren’t nearly enough adult services, so we desperately need BARC and other places like BARC to flourish,” said Brown.
For more information about BARC, visit bristolarc.org/index.cfm.