In the 1940’s and 1950’s little was known about intellectual disability (then referred to as ‘mental retardation’) and developmental disability, or its causes. There were virtually no programs and activities to assist in the development and care of people with I/DD or to support families. It was common for doctors to tell parents that the best place for their child was in an institution. One parent in particular, Dr. Elizabeth Boggs, would not accept the limited options laid out for her son (born in 1945), David. Over the next some years, Dr. Boggs focused on advocacy and development of public policy with a national group of concerned parents and founded The Arc (originally named the National Association of Parents and Friends of Retarded Citizens.) Elizabeth would become known as the First Lady of the Arc, serving as its first female president in 1956.
In 1961, thanks to the National Arc’s advocacy and the work of its early founders, JFK signed into law legislation that provided federal funding for local communities to create programs and facilities for people with developmental disabilities. The Arc of Atlantic County (originally the Atlantic County Unit of the New Jersey Association for Retarded Children) was incorporated by founding members: Camillo and Jane DeLuco, Barbara Aron, Alice D’Amico, and Charles and Henrietta Vitanza. The first two programs run by The Arc of Atlantic County provided respite for parents of young children with a day care and a preschool.
Another national milestone, The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) of 1975, required public schools to provide appropriate educational services for all children with disabilities between ages 3 and 21. Through this legislation, children with disabilities were granted access to “a free appropriate public education which emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs.” During this time, The Arc of Atlantic County started numerous recreational programs, including a summer camp, and began providing night school for adults with IDD. By the end of the 1970s The Arc of Atlantic County began hiring a professional management team.
In 1980, The Board and staff decided to open the area’s first group home for people with IDD and fundraising to purchase a property in Pleasantville commenced. Starshine, a fundraising event where casino entertainers, such as Nelson Sardelli and Tony Orlando, shined shoes on the Atlantic City Boardwalk for donations in support of The Arc of Atlantic County. Tony Orlando personally donated generously to the Starshine fund and, in 1981, the organization was able to purchase the property, named the Rhonda Marie Schroeder (RMS) Group Home, after Tony’s sister who lived with a disability. 6 full time staff support staff were hired, including now Chief Operating Officer, Pat Jones.
Over the next 10 years, The Arc of Atlantic County would open 7 more group homes and 2 supervised apartments, quickly growing under the leadership of Debbie Davies, the organizations third full time Executive Director.
Into the 1990s, as the words ‘retardation’ and ‘retarded’ became pejorative, derogatory, and demeaning in usage, the organization evolved its terminology to reflect the desires of people with disabilities, and changed its name to ‘The Arc of Atlantic County’ in 1993. While these terms still appear occasionally, specifically in organizational histories, they have largely been replaced and usage of ‘intellectual disability’ and ‘developmental disability’ (abbreviated IDD) continues to spread. The Arc is not an acronym. Always keep “The” and “Arc” together as a single name. We are “The Arc”, not an “Arc.”
From 2000-2010, The Arc of Atlantic County grew in leaps and bounds. From 6 full time employees and one group home 20 years before to almost 250 employees and an annual operating budget of over $16M.
In 2012, long time (1983-2012) Executive Director Debbie Davies retired. Scott Hennis was named Chief Executive Officer in 2017 and Ashley Simons was named Chief Financial Officer in 2021, after long time CFO, Jill Conforth Lemon retired in 2021. Today The Arc of Atlantic County operates group homes and supervised apartments in Atlantic County, supporting nearly 200 people with IDD in South Jersey. We offer day habilitation and employment services, case management, respite services and recreation to almost 1000 people throughout South Jersey and employ over 300 professionals. We are supported by over 500 individuals, businesses and institutions in our neighborhoods and manage two thrift shops whose proceeds are used to ensure that people with IDD are able to live the lives they chose.