Arc of Onondaga has a motto: Turning Disability into Ability.

Since 1951, the organization has grown to more than 40 sites throughout Onondaga County, providing a variety of services and programs for children and adults with developmental disabilities.

Family Times recently talked to Joanna Jewett, director of marketing and development, about the milestone.

1. Arc of Onondaga is celebrating 70 years in 2021. How has the organization changed and evolved over that time?

A lot has changed since 1951, when a group of concerned parents got together to ensure that their children received the best educational and social services possible, yet our commitment to people with developmental disabilities and their families has remained constant over the years. To understand how far we’ve come, it’s important to look at where we’ve been. In the 1950s, parents of children who were born with developmental disabilities were often advised that their children would be best served and protected in institutional settings, essentially removing them from their homes and communities. Today, inclusion is at the heart of the services we provide. Arc of Onondaga currently operates 24 residential homes, all of which are in neighborhoods. Our Community Supports services provide people we support with opportunities to volunteer for area organizations. Many activities that are enjoyed during day habilitation program hours happen out in the community. Our employment program provides exploration and training to support people to find and maintain meaningful work experiences and employment within the community. These are just a few examples that illustrate the shift from segregation to inclusion and integration.

2. What is your goal or mission?

Arc of Onondaga’s mission is to assist individuals with developmental disabilities achieve their fullest potential.

3. Describe the services you offer.

We support children, youth, and adults in a variety of programs and services. In addition to our Residential, Day Habilitation, and Employment programs, we operate Horizons Clinic, an Article 16 clinic, which provides therapeutic, clinical services to individuals of all ages with developmental disabilities, enhancing their quality of life and helping them achieve their fullest potential. Community Habilitation helps people with developmental disabilities live in the least restrictive environment possible, allowing them the opportunity to access the community and build on skills in the home while encouraging independence and establishing self-confidence. Our Recreation Programs provide activities in the community for both adults and teens with developmental disabilities. The programs are designed to explore a variety of recreational opportunities that exist in the community while helping them to meet new people, develop friendships, and have fun! Our Summer Fun Program provides one-on-one support to enable youths ages 8-18 to enjoy area summer camps and opportunities. The Family Reimbursement program is designed to provide funds to assist individuals and their families access to respite services and goods deemed appropriate to meet the needs of the person being served.  The program is designed to assist family members by giving them some relief from full-time caregiving, and may also potentially increase social interactions for individuals with developmental disabilities. Funding is intended to complement, not supplement, other support and assistance programs. Each program fosters the development of social skills, helps to promote independence, and provides opportunities for community inclusion.

4. How is Arc of Onondaga celebrating its 70th year?

While the beginning of 2021 has not allowed for group celebrations, we are hoping to celebrate our 70th year later this year at the 27th Annual Dunkin’ Run Arc Race in September, and our 26th Annual Achievement Awards Dinner in October. Both are events are hosted by the Arc of Onondaga Foundation. The Arc of Onondaga Foundation fosters support and raises funds for Arc of Onondaga, and grants awards annually that fund projects and improvements, for which there is no traditional funding. Our 70 for 70 campaign offers the opportunity to join in our celebration while honoring someone with an engraved brick in our Sensory Garden. For more information, please visit

5. How can Family Times readers get involved with your organization?

One of the easiest ways to get involved is to become a member. Information can be found on

6. Is there anything else you would like to add?

We are very proud to be celebrating our 70th year of providing supports and services to people with developmental disabilities and are grateful for the many partnerships we enjoy that foster community inclusion. We are grateful for the families of the people we support and the community members who support our initiatives and efforts. Lastly, we are extremely grateful to our dedicated team. Whether they work in direct care, or in one of our support departments, each employee is valued. We are very proud of the fact that many of our employees have been with the agency for years – some for decades – which speaks to their commitment to the mission of Arc of Onondaga of turning disability into ability.


Courtney Kless is the Editor in Chief of Family Times. Courtney is originally from Maryland. She earned her Master’s degree in Magazine, Newspaper and Online Journalism from Syracuse University. Courtney began her career as a sports journalist, then spent several years working in higher education, before joining the company in August 2019. She enjoys traveling, reading and hiking, and recently adopted a Labrador Retriever, Bailey.

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