Lekisha Logan was sort of nervous at the idea of venturing to Washington, D.C., for the first time.
But now she’s looking forward to it.
“I got a little jittery, but I think it will be OK,” Logan said of her upcoming trip Oct. 27 to 28.
Logan, 37, will head to the nation’s capital to speak before a Congressional briefing including staffers for members of Congress.
But she also wants to see the National Mall and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
She and another client from The Arc of Southside, Eric Cottrell, will talk to staffers about their experiences working in the community.
The Arc of Southside provides services to intellectually disabled people.
The Arc’s transition from an institutional-based employment program to enabling clients to work for employers in the community took place several years ago.
Now, clients Logan and Cottrell live and work on their own. The Arc’s purpose is to empower them to “live a life like yours.”
“I like being able to do what I want to do,” Cottrell, 32, said during an interview at The Arc of Southside on Main Street in Danville on Thursday afternoon.
Since a broader move from an institution-based philosophy to one that focuses on including their clients in the community several years ago, The Arc of Southside has had more than 100 jobs placements in the Dan River Region, said The Arc of Southside Executive Director Rhonda Dark.
“We believe in a life like yours,” Dark said. “We are proof that it can work.”
Virginia settled with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2012 to transform the commonwealth’s system from a facility-based focus — where clients at places like The Arc lived, attended school and/or worked in segregated settings away from mainstream society — to community services.
The U.S. Civil Rights Division had found Virginia failed to serve individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities in integrated settings appropriate to their needs. This was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Instead of taking intellectually disabled people and placing them at a certain work location, The Arc of Southside lets the clients decide where to make their living. That process began in the Dan River Region around the time of the settlement.
Logan, a dishwasher at Dell’Anno’s Pizza Kitchen, worked at The Arc of Southside’s Hatcher Center for 14 years before beginning at Dell’Anno’s about seven years ago.
She enjoys working for an employer apart from The Arc.
“I like meeting new people, talking to people and making new friends,” Logan said at The Arc of Southside on Thursday.
Cottrell, who works part-time at Piedmont Regional Feeding Clinic in Danville, feels confident about his upcoming travel to Washington and plans to tell staffers part-time workers should get the same vacation, sick leave and health benefits as full-time employees.
“I feel good because it’s truth they need to hear,” Cottrell said.
Employers are not required to provide benefits to part-time workers.
But Cottrell is glad he makes more money working in the community than he did when he worked at The Hatcher Center.
He was able to go to Myrtle Beach and plans to go to the Outer Banks next summer — trips he would not have been able to enjoy before working at his current job, he said.
Arc of Virginia Executive Director Tonya Milling said Cottrell and Logan are among about 10 to 12 people from across the country who will speak to the briefing on topics related to those with intellectual disabilities.
Milling also will speak in favor of supporting funding for community-based jobs for those with disabilities and against laws that allow employers to pay them less than minimum wage.
“Right now, it’s legal to pay them below minimum wage,” Milling said. “We would like to see that eliminated in the law.”
The briefing on topics related to disabilities was put together by the Center for Public Representation, a public interest law firm with offices in Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts. The center advocates for and promotes “the integration and full community participation of people with disabilities and all others who are devalued in today’s society,” according to its web site.
“We’re trying to show the positive impact of people working,” said David Gusler, director of community services at The Arc of Southside.
Crane reports for the Register & Bee. He can be reached at (434) 791-7987.