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April 29, 1994 - Image 31

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1994-04-29

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Norman Wachler recalls corn-
ing across the perfect place —
a large residence between
Farmington and Drake roads
in West Bloomfield — only to
have neighbors complain about
the future residents.
"They said it would bring
down the value of the neigh-
borhood and made every stereo-
typical comment about the
disabled," he says. "Frankly, I
thought they were idiots."
So Mr. Wachler turned to his
friend Bill Avrunin, then exec-
utive vice president of the Jew-
ish Federation.
The Federation owned a
house that had been planned as
a home for wayward Jewish
girls, but for which there proved
to be no need. Mr. Wachler was
blunt.
"We don't have the money to
buy it," he told Mr. Avrunin.
"But rent it to me and let's get
this thing going."
Days later, the deal was set.
The JARC parents and vol-
unteers hired a manager and a
handful of workers and secured
some donated furniture. The
first JARC home opened in
1972.
JARC's next major challenge
came in 1977. For decades, the
principal caretakers of the dis-
abled were the federal govern-
ment and the state, which
operated residential institutions
housing everyone from the se-
verely handicapped to the mod-
erately disabled.
In 1977, the government an-
nounced the dissolution of such
institutions, which meant many
Jewish men and women would
be without a place to live.
JARC decided to open a new
home (the second was
established in 1978),
expand its base (the
majority of its sup-
porters to that point
were parents of the
disabled) and hire a
full-time director.
Among the applicants
was a young woman
named Joyce Keller.
Ms. Keller was a
Harvard graduate,
with a degree in spe-
cial education, work-
ing for an inner-city
community mental-
health agency when
she heard about the
opening at JARC.
"I just flipped over
Joyce," Mr. Wachler
says.
Joel Shere, another
early supporter of
JARC and its current
president, was equal-
ly impressed.
Mr. Shere joined up
with JARC 17 years
ago, when a high-
school classmate
asked him to consider
joining the board. Mr. Joel Shere

Shere agreed immediately.
"It was clear we would be
participating for clients who re-
ally do need the support of our
community," he says. And be-
sides, "I don't say no to Jewish
organizations."
Mr. Shere believes JARC's
tremendous growth really be-
gan when Ms. Keller came on
board.
"She had excellent creden-
tials, presence, enthusiasm and
directness," he says. "You
couldn't help being struck by
those qualities."
Two years after Ms. Keller
was hired, Norman Wachler
was named JARC president. In
1981 the organization held its
first fund-raiser, showing Best
Boy, the story of a disabled man
and his family, at the Northland
Theater in Southfield.
"We had a theater full of peo-
ple from throughout the com-
munity," Mr. Shere recalls.
"Many had been invited only by
word of mouth — to an event for
a virtually unknown organiza-
tion."
The event raised $80,000 and
"launched us into the belief that
we could do anything," Ms.
Keller says.
Mr. Wachler also calls the
showing of Best Boy a turning
point. After that, he never again
had to call in favors from
friends.
"Everybody wanted to get on
our board— at one time we had
25 applying for six positions,"
he recalls. "And we had people
waiting to give us money."
In addition to its fund-rais-
ers, JARC was successful be-
cause the organization operated
on a balanced budget, Mr.

Norman Wachler

Wachler says, and because "we
were aggressive. We said, let's
buy the house, then raise the
$200,000.'
"My position was, We have
to take risks.' I promised, 'I'll
raise the money,' and I always
did."
Mr. Wachler also credits
JARC's commitment to lifetime
care for hundreds of members
of the community as a reason
for its success.
"Every single person
who comes to a JARC
home is there for life, not
for as long as we can af-
ford it," he says. "And
that creates tremendous
responsibility.
"We have 150 persons
in homes and apart-
ment,s, 250 on our wait-
ing list, and we know
there's another 2,500 out
there who will some
time need residential
care."
It isn't simply the fact
that it manages to care
for so many that makes
JARC remarkable, Mr.
Wachler says. He is con-
stantly impressed by the
quality of that care.
"It starts with Joyce
Keller," he says. "She
eats meals in the JARC
homes. Every client
knows her name.
"Our policy is that
clients should never be
embarrassed and should
be regarded as family.
No matter how unpleas-
ant the job appears, it's

clear that if you want to work
at JARC, you have to treat a
client like she's your sister.
"You really see clients im-
prove at JARC," he adds. "They
become less violent or they
learn to speak. People who had
been institutionalized for years
and couldn't even say a word
are now living semi-indepen-
dently in apartments."

D

ays before Joel Shere
was to be named presi-
dent of JARC, he went
out to dinner.
It was no typical celebratory
meal at an overpriced restau-
rant. Mr. Shere chose to mark
his new position by taking his
wife for several meals at JARC
homes.
"It was like having a dinner
with friends," he says. "Yes, of
course there were differences,
but those differences were su-
perficial.
"We always came away with
such a good feeling of the hu-
man potential."
He expresses similar senti-
ments about another activity
that sounds to the average per-
son about as delightful as
watching reruns of "Gilligan's
Island" while having a root
canal: attending board meet-
ings.
The JARC board, he says,
comprises an unusual collection
of men and women whole-
heartedly committed to the
cause.
"I have never seen a group
work together so successfully
and so selflessly," he says. "It's

a place where everyone is val-
ued, everyone can contribute,
everyone can make a differ-
ence."
That kind of commitment
will be necessary as JARC faces
its latest challenge• dealing with
proposed changes in living
arrangements for the disabled.
The county government is
pushing for increased options
for the disabled rather than im-
mediately directing them to
group homes, Ms. Keller says.
Within the next 10 years,
clients may soon have the op-
tion about which city they
would like to live in with whom

JARC's first
fund-raiser
brought in
$80,000.

they would like to live, and
whether they want a house or
an apartment.
"We're unsure about how it
will play out," Ms. Keller says.
In anticipation of the
changes, through which indi-
viduals (and not agencies) re- c:„
ceive funding for their own care,
JARC is now working on a pi- c;
lot project with four clients, to c•i
allow them to define their own — 1
living arrangements.
"Will it mean a dismantling
of all group homes? No," Ms.

BROTHER'S KEEPER page 32

31

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