Today, the Biden Administration will allow the COVID-19 Health Emergency Declaration to expire. The decision to do so comes over 3 years after the first cases of Coronavirus were detected in the United States, with New York State becoming one of the earliest hotspots of the pandemic.
As federal, state, and local agencies continue to roll back pandemic-era provisions, we at The Arc Westchester wanted to reflect on where we’ve been, and where we are going.
From the start of the coronavirus pandemic, The Arc Westchester’s mission of providing innovative supports for those with developmental disabilities throughout their lifetime never wavered. While COVID-19 tested us, our Values of: Fostering Independence, Cultivating Relationships, Promoting Happiness, Ensuring Safety, and Supporting Good Health only become more significant.
Our top priority was – and always will be – the health and safety of the over 2,000 individuals we support daily. Quickly, we shifted as much of our in-person programing to virtual settings. Our Day Services and Preschool departments utilized ZOOM to connect with participants and continued to provide the highest quality services possible. This also extended to volunteers, who were still able to host fun experiences, even miles away.
Our Direct Support Professional staff initially braved the unknown (often sporting homemade PPE) and continued to provide in-person support to our 44 residential homes throughout Westchester County. These everyday heroes were already “essential workers” before the pandemic, but they soon became the very definition of the term.
As the pandemic progressed, and government restrictions adjusted, in-person activities began to slowly return. We developed a strong reopening plan, all while strictly following health and safety guidelines set by the CDC, OPWDD, and other regulatory agencies. Through virtual events, email campaigns, and other digital communications via social media and our website, everyone worked tirelessly to provide continued updates to families and those who receive our services. Keeping them up to date on how decisions at the federal and state level impacted on the vital services provided to their loved ones.
This constant stream of information extended to our staff, especially as game changing vaccines and therapeutics were available in our area. The Arc Westchester enacted a massive push to get as many of our employees, and those we support, vaccinated.
While COVID-19 has presented an array of challenges during the past 3 years, the people we support have continued to thrive thanks to the perseverance of our dedicated staff and the incredible generosity of our donors, who filled in the gaps when government support fell short.
Today, we are proud to say that we have fully resumed all in-person programing and have even adopted elements of virtual learning to provide even more support where applicable. Everyone we support are now able to fully enjoy the collection of our innovative services, from our Children’s School for Early Development, Residential and Day Services, Employment program, and much more!
Last month, The Arc Westchester’s flagship fundraiser, our 17th Annual A Matter of Taste returned for the first time since the COVID-19 Pandemic began. The event saw our largest attendance, and a record-breaking $550,000 raised. Truly a triumph from where we were at the start of the pandemic.
While we are grateful the worst of the pandemic is behind us, The Arc Westchester is not resting on its laurels. We will continue to stay vigilant, regularly monitor levels COVID-19 infections, and use all health measures of protection available to reduce any future risk of spread and keep the people we support and our employees healthy and safe.
Our DSPs need your support!
In addition, we will continue to advocate for our essential staff to receive the living waget they so richly deserve. As we along with our New York State Chapter, The Arc New York, continue to fight for a fair COLA increase for organizations like ours to invest in our Direct Support Professional staff. Earlier this month, the Final NYS Budget we will receive only a 4% cost of living increase, Less than half of our requested 8.5% COLA. Due to inflation, the 4% COLA has become essentially a 4.5% cut in funding.
After their selfless actions, especially upon reflection of the COVID-19 pandemic, our Direct Support Staff and New Yorkers with developmental disabilities deserve better.