Arc: Merger will lift Triangle clients up together

07/22/2014 12:09 PM

07/22/2014 12:10 PM

Arc of the Triangle officials say their recent merger is a stepping stone to better things.

The former Arcs of Orange, Durham and Wake counties, which have served clients for roughly 60 years, finalized the merger July 1. The new agency’s administrative offices will be in Chapel Hill, but local offices will remain to serve clients, said executive director Robin Baker.

The nonprofit Arc of the Triangle serves roughly 600 clients with intellectual and developmental disabilities, such as Down syndrome, learning difficulties and Asperger syndrome, and advocates for their equal treatment and acceptance. The agency also provides support for families and caregivers, plus programs and activities that are open to all residents.

Several dozen people are on a waiting list for Arc services, including employment help, respite care and one-on-one assistance, said Baker, Orange County’s former executive director.

The possibility of merging came up at a lunch with Wake County’s interim executive director Jennifer Pfaltzgraff, Baker said. Pfaltzgraff is now Arc of the Triangle’s marketing director. A merger committee considered the idea and let members – mostly donors and families – vote on it, he said.

“Both of the other Arcs could have shut their doors if we hadn’t partnered together like this,” Baker said.

Wake County has a good program, he said. Durham – the smallest of the three – was struggling, said Prince Bull, former Arc of Durham president. The group’s executive director retired and was not replaced. They also found it harder to compete with the many specialized groups in Durham for a dwindling pool of funds, Bull said.

Both agencies also took a harder hit than Orange County from several years of administrative and funding changes, Baker said. Losing most of their United Way money – roughly 85 percent in Orange County alone – was especially significant, he said.

“Their priorities at the United Way now are people that are homeless, people that are in crisis and people that are hungry,” he said, “and our folks don’t neatly fit into any of those buckets.”

Many clients live with their parents or in group homes well into their adulthood. Having a larger agency means more clout when seeking funds, officials said.

Grants, donations down

Federal tax returns for the last three years show the agencies have managed to break even. Grants and donations have fallen sharply since 2009, forcing Wake and Durham to use their savings at times to balance the budget.

In 2013, for instance, Orange County reported $2.6 million in revenues and $2.2 million in expenses, according to federal tax records. Wake County had $384,535 in revenues and $403,718 in expenses, records show, and Durham had $77,886 in revenues and $225,059 in expenses.

Baker said Orange County was fortunate to have been a Medicaid service provider for the last nine years. They also have a strong base of university support, with students comprising roughly 40 percent of the staff and serving as summer camp interns. UNC fraternities and sororities raise tens of thousands of dollars each year and participate with clients in activities and programs, he said.

They want to develop similar relationships with students at Meredith College and Duke and N.C. State universities, Baker said.

The cost of personnel is rising, however, to meet managed care companies’ oversight, compliance and reporting requirements.

The Arc of the Triangle plans to to fund existing services in Wake and Durham counties, Baker said, and slowly expand them over time. They’re also seeking new space and a full-time employee for the Durham office, he said.

“It’s not in our strategic plan to just grow across the state,” Baker said. “But by being the Arc of the Triangle, we can share resources, we can become more visible to major donors, like some of the corporations in (Research Triangle Park). We’ll be a greater resource to more people.”

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