FITCHBURG – The Arc of Opportunity in North Central Massachusetts will be hosting its annual auction fundraiser on Oct. 14, an event near and dear to the heart of President and CEO Mary Heafy and the first time it will be held in person since 2019.
This year marks the 33rd year the auction has taken place and the 70th anniversary of the organization headquartered on Main Street that advocates for and aids individuals with disabilities through home, day, employment, and family supports as well as recreation programs and more.
Heafy said they are “hoping to meet or exceed” $50,000 this year, the amount raised at the 2019 live auction.
“We are excited to welcome community members to help The Arc continue this critical work by attending the auction and bidding generously,” she said. “100% of funds raised go to family supports, which provides respite for families, recreation activities, support groups, and advocacy that promotes and protects the human rights of people with disabilities and actively supports their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes.”
Heafy grew up in Lowell and raised her children in Waltham. She now lives in Jaffrey, N.H., on Mount Monadnock with her husband, “two amazing adult children and their wonderful spouses,” two golden retrievers, one cat, and 30 chickens, and is expecting her first grandchild in December.
The family-oriented leader received an undergraduate degree in behavioral science from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, a master’s in healthcare administration from Framingham State University, and a Certificate in Strategic Perspectives in Non-Profit Management from Harvard Business School. She has been with this chapter of The Arc for over 13 years and worked in another chapter for five years prior.
“My inspiration to join The Arc movement grew out of the influences of my family, my faith community, and Girl Scouting, all of which instilled in me a desire to serve others, particularly those who are marginalized,” Heafy said. “Girl Scouting was foundational in developing my leadership skills.”
In addition, she said it was her colleagues that drew her to be a part of The Arc as “the staff of this organization had, and continue to have, an exceptional reputation for innovative, responsive, person-centered supports.”
“The North Central region has a reputation for valuing diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Heafy said. “The combination of great staff and a welcoming region left no question in my mind about joining this team. The Arc adds to the vitality and resilience of the region.”
She entered the field as a vocation counselor, helping program participants get and keep jobs, and said she acquired a lot of useful knowledge during that time.
“I learned to focus on what each person can do rather than focus on what they cannot do,” Heafy said. “My focus continues to recognize and lift up what each person can do to fully participate in their communities throughout their lifetime.”
She said the auction is important to The Arc’s work because it helps support the longevity of the organization founded seven decades ago “by families for families supporting a loved one with a disability in the community.”
“Family supports is at the core of our mission, and yet we receive very little funding from the state to provide supports to families,” Heafy shared. “We rely almost exclusively on the auction to fund our many supports to families. Having the community show up in such a big way year in and year out is huge. It speaks to how much the community believes in this work and the quality support to families with a loved one with a disability.”
Those interested can reserve tickets for the “Cheers to 70 Years” event, bid on silent auction items and check out the live auction items, and more by visiting cheersto70years.givesmart.com. Heafy said it is through community support such as this that they will be able to continue their work in the local community achieve their hopes and goals for the future of The Arc.
“The Arc of Opportunity works every day to build a future of inclusive work, play, community, travel, and more. There are still families supporting a loved one with a disability in our region who are not receiving the supports they need. Our goal is to recruit and retain a workforce with the lived and learned experiences reflective of the families currently not receiving supports so that our organization becomes the place where all families know they belong.”
Heafy was the guest speaker at the Fitchburg Rotary’s monthly meeting in August and spoke about the horrific ways those with disabilities were treated before organizations like The Arc came along.
“If you had a child born with disabilities the doctor would pat you on the shoulder and say, ‘Sorry, you should put it in an institution and have another one’,” she said, adding that sadly they were seen as “a throwaway child.”
“None of us raises a child alone,” Heafy said at the meeting of the village that The Arc helps to provide to families. “That’s why family support remains so important to us to this day.”
She spoke about children not allowed to go to school if they had a disability until one Leominster father, Rollin Lane, “was the squeaky wheel at school committee meetings” and got his daughter, who was born with Down syndrome, enrolled in school.
“Kim was able to go to school in a basement classroom with no specialized services, but they got to go to school,” Heafy recalled. “Without the Lane family in Leominster and others The Arc would not exist. Those families transformed the world, and they are still doing it today. If you’ve ever had a child that has benefitted from early intervention thank a chapter of The Arc. The Arc fights so that no child is left behind.”
She said their program participants and others with disabilities “deserve to be treated and live like everyone else” and that she will remain committed to doing this meaningful kind of work and advocating for those who need it.
“I am an eternal optimist who believes opportunities and connections abound,” Heafy said. “Looking through the lens of ability allows the staff and me to see possibilities that help each person to be a part of their community and chart a life course unique to them. Every person deserves a life of meaning and connection.”