In her 25 years with JARC, Joyce Keller has
uplifted the lives of the developmentally disabled.
NAME: Joyce Keller
PROFESSION: JARC executive
director for 25 years
resh from Harvard with a
master's degree in educa-
tion, it took Joyce Keller
two days to know teaching
wasn't for her. Unclear
where to turn, she sought advice from
JVS (formerly Jewish Vocational
Service) and was sent on a path that
changed her life — and the lives of
hundreds of others.
Her eventual match with JARC (for-
merly Jewish Association for Residential
Care) turned into a marriage that's
marking 25 years this month — and
still going strong.
Under her guidance as executive
director, the Farmington Hills-based
organization that serves individuals with
developmental disabilities went from
serving seven people in one house to
140 people in 20 homes — and provid-
ing support for more than 300 families
who have a child with a disability living
at home. JARC's budget grew from a
mere $40,000 to its current $8 million.
"Joyce is a visionary," says State Sen.
Gilda Jacobs, D-Huntington Woods,
who worked under Keller at JARC from
When Jacobs was first hired, Keller
suggested to her board that Jacobs and
Rena Friedberg, current JARC develop-
ment director, job share. Both had
young children and job sharing — not
then in vogue — was a way to hire two
bright, creative women who would serv-
ice JARC and have flexibility with their
'And Joyce taught me how to be a
great boss," Jacobs adds.
PERSONALS: Lives on Watkins
Lake in Waterford with her
husband, retired Southfield Deputy
Chief of Police Michael Walch.
EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree from University of Michigan, Ann
Arbor; master's in education, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
NATIONAL EXPERIENCE: President Clinton appointed Keller to
the President's Committee on Mental Retardation, 1995-2000.
AWARDS: Spirit of Service Honor Award, Michigan Assisted Living
Award, 2002; Women of Achievement Award, Anti-Defamation
League, 1998; Annual Dinner Honoree, Angels' Place, 1995;
Michiganian of the Year, Detroit News, 1994; Berman Award for
Outstanding Professional of the Year, Jewish Federation of
Metropolitan Detroit, 1991.
GUIDING PHILOSOPHY: "I set the bar high for myself, the
people I work with and the people we serve — the way you get the
best out of everyone and everything is by expecting the most."
For example, Jacobs says there's a
high degree of job satisfaction at JARC
and a very low turnover rate for admin-
istrators and staff, thanks to Keller.
Currently, JARC has 200 paid staff and
Over the years, Keller also has
achieved a national presence and is part
of policy decisions at the state and fed-
eral level. In 1995, President Bill
Clinton appointed her to the President's
Committee on Mental Retardation; she
served five years. In 1998, Gov. John
Engler chose her and 14 others to
advise the Department of Community
Health director on issues related to the
health, mental health and disability
services in Michigan.
"Joyce developed JARC's heart —
the philosophy based on the value and
dignity of each individual," Jacobs says.
"It drives all she's done with her
employees, families and people in the
JARC will honor Keller on her 25th
anniversary at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept.
23, at the Jewish Community Center in
Keller radiates warmth and strength
when discussing her work at JARC. Just
as she knew on day 2 of teaching that it
wasn't for her, she knew by her second
day at JARC that leading the agency
was her dream job.
"A lot about JARC had to do with
my Jewish identity and the feeling of
coming home," Keller says.
The position combined her interest
in people with disabilities with her apti-
tude for business.
Originally, JVS sent her to the Adult
Service Centers Inc. in Detroit, where
she served for three years as a project
director for formerly institutionalized
individuals. There she met JARC board
member Rhoda Reiterman, who asked
Keller to apply for the JARC executive
"She was just a kid in her 20s," says
Norman Wachler of West Bloomfield,
founding JARC board member, a for-
mer president and principle fund-raiser.
He had interviewed Keller for the
job. "But I was overwhelmed by her
presence, enthusiasm and her ability.
She was so dynamic."
Once hired, Keller, within a year,