When the Jeanne Bussard Center in Frederick closed its doors this summer, it left dozens of clients with developmental disabilities without the assistance they needed.
But 19 of those clients found a safe haven with the Arc of Frederick County, a nonprofit organization that helps people with developmental disabilities and their families get the services they want to become as independent as possible.
“It was devastating,” said Elizabeth “Liddy” Brandon, 84, whose son Mark, 58, was a client at the center and is now at Arc. “We had been there for 40 years. ... It was a big loss. It took us almost two weeks to get ourselves to the Arc. I couldn’t believe when we got here how they had opened the doors and moved things around [for us].”
Brandon said she was amazed at the response she’s seen from the Arc, and the help they’ve provided her son. Mark works on several types of projects that can be sold, including weaving portions of wicker chairs.
“The volunteers are just great, and the employees, they have just been marvelous to our children, the clients,” she said. “I can go on and on with this.”
Aaron Stephens, assistant director for Arc, said the organization helped 29 people immediately after the closing of the center this summer. Nineteen clients continued to work with Arc after the initial change.
“In some cases, it was helping people maintain the job they currently have,” Stephens said. “... In other cases, it was helping people locate a job they need in the community.”
The Bussard Center, housed at 555 South Market St., provided training, education and work for adults with developmental disabilities from 1965 until closing earlier this year.
Jeanne Dalaba, the former head of the center, was sentenced to six months in jail in November for contempt of court after Frederick County Circuit Court Judge G. Edward Dwyer Jr. ruled she continually misled investigators who were examining the financial records of the troubled center.
She was also ordered to pay back money she took from the center, as well as provide a computer and hard drives investigators needed. She is currently being held at the Frederick County Adult Detention Center pending a review hearing scheduled for Jan. 3.
The Bussard center employed many of its clients in-house, but Arc is finding jobs and volunteer opportunities for clients in the community such as at the Red Cross and the Catoctin Creek Nature Center, doing clerical and administrative work, said Shauna Clay, development director for Arc.
She said Arc tries to place clients with volunteer activities they’re passionate about, and give them exposure to the Frederick community.
Stephens said Arc hoped that the clients’ volunteer work would be parlayed into potential jobs.
“We hope those skills can help them obtain paid positions,” he said. “They’re skills that can be a valuable asset to a paid employer.”
Arc received a grant from the Community Foundation of Frederick County of about $9,250 to help assist the clients, and also receives money from the state’s Developmental Disabilities Administration, which funded the Bussard Center, Clay said.
The city and county do not provide funds.
Arc also holds fundraisers, most recently at Hollow Creek Golf Club, which raised about $1,000. Clay said a trivia tournament will be held in March, and a show choir competition in April to raise funds.
Stephens said Arc has seen a burst of support from the community to help the displaced clients.
“It’s been great to see how the Frederick community saw this as an issue,” he said. “We didn’t feel like we were out there alone — whether it was people offering jobs, volunteer jobs, teachers from [Frederick County Public Schools], students from [Frederick Community College]; everybody played ... a part in this. It was beautiful to see the community come together.”
One of those community sites was the Catoctin Creek Nature Center in Middletown. Park Naturalist Susan Matthews said she met staff members from Arc at the Convoy for Hope in June, and the two organizations began searching for a way to work together.
Volunteer clients began visiting the center in September, doing weeding and learning about plants near the nature center.
“They really enjoyed the hands-on component of that,” she said. “Every time they come, we take out live animals and artifacts, and have a project for them to work on while they’re here.”
The group of two to three volunteers visits the center once a week and spends about an hour helping at the nature center.
“They fold some of our brochures, they help take care of the animals, they help mist enclosures and add fresh water,” Matthews said.
Matthews said the nature center employees like having the visits and will include the group of volunteers in their Nature Fest event on April 20, during which they’ll set up a booth and talk about the program.
“We usually get big hugs when they come in,” she said. “I think they enjoy having a place they can come and meet new animals, and their faces definitely light up when they meet new animals. ... We love having them come here.”