NEWARK — As Wayne ARC Executive Director David Calhoun sat at his desk inside the agency’s Van Buren Street headquarters, he noted that at some point soon he won’t be sitting there anymore.
It’s not that he’s leaving the agency that serves, among other populations, people with developmental disabilities. It’s because where he sits will become part of Erie Shore Landing, a “street of shops” featuring a café and bakery, seasonal ice cream parlor, a worker training site, and a revamped print shop with additional services.
The project is part of Wayne ARC’s effort to provide greater employment opportunities for people with disabilities through a new model focused on integrated employment. Agencies like Wayne ARC nationwide are facing a phase-out of the traditional sheltered workshops, a setup that has provided the disabled jobs for decades.
Wayne ARC hired a New York City firm to devise some options on how to achieve the goal. Enter the street-of-shops concept.
Since then, ARC has secured roughly $650,000 in grants from the state and the Golisano Foundation. The project has gone out to bid.
Calhoun would not divulge the total price tag because the bidding process is underway.
ARC hopes to have the retail center open in the fall, Calhoun said, noting that many offices are being moved — including his — to accommodate the new retail development.
The café and bake shop will be open for breakfast and lunch, and will provide catering too.
Calhoun thinks Erie Canal Landing has great potential.
“We have a beautiful location (next to the Erie Canal),” Calhoun stated. “It all started with the village spending lots of money on the (canal) park. Talk about having a perfect location. We decided we wanted to take advantage of that. We’re hoping that local businesses will come by for lunch and that our staff will take advantage. We want it to be a place where all people come together.”
Calhoun expects the three operations to employ 30-35 people, including a professional to oversee the café/bakery and ice cream shop.
Newark Mayor Jonathan Taylor is excited about the project.
“The project at Wayne ARC goes a long way toward helping make downtown Newark a destination for not only our community, but for those who travel from around the world, either via cycling or boating to the Port of Newark,” he said.
The ARC headquarters on Van Buren Street formerly housed the once-iconic Sarah Coventry, a jewelry company that later moved to a campus on Route 88 before going out of business in the 1980s.
Erie Canal Landing also will feature The Learning Academy, which will provide training for the retail operations, Calhoun explained. This will be available to those with and without disabilities, he added.
Wayne ARC’s Key Industries, which provides a host of employment opportunities through its varied services, is not going away, Calhoun emphasized, but its operations are being modified to support the more integrated approach federal and state governments are requiring.
People with disabilities and those without already work side by side at Key Industries, Calhoun noted.
Key Industries services include packaging and assembly, lawn care, janitorial, digital printing and mailing, advertising material preparation, document shredding, catering, and employee placement.
Other notable ARC services include Roosevelt Children, which provides early intervention and preschool programs for children ages birth to 5, as well as day habilitation for people who may not capable of taking part in employment opportunities. The program encourages community interaction, and its participants are involved in a number of community service activities.
ARC also operates a number of group homes in Wayne County and are in the food-preparation business, supplying the county’s Meal on Wheels program, as well summer lunch programs at various locations are the county.
The demand for services provided by agencies such as ARC are increasing, Calhoun said, in part due to an increase in autism cases that have affected thousands of families across the nation.
“You’re going to have somebody in your life or family who has a disability,” Calhoun said.
Calhoun, who came to Wayne ARC from a similar position in Massachusetts 11 years ago, has been touched as well: He had a brother with Down syndrome.
A history major in college, Calhoun said he didn’t set out to seek a job working with people with disabilities. It just kind of happened.
“I started working at a group home, and I liked it,” he said.
Calhoun notes that ARC bylaws require that a percentage of agency’s Board of Directors have a family member with an intellectual or developmental disability.
“It keeps you remembering why you’re here,” Calhoun said.
As for his employees, whom he said hail from a variety of backgrounds, many are drawn to the sometimes-challenging work, while others grow to love it. A certain percentage find out it’s not for them and move on pretty quickly, he said.
“We have a lot of people who have been here for a lot of years,” concluded Calhoun, pointing out that Wayne ARC is one of the county’s largest employers.