Q&A with Annette Jeske, Executive Director of the Arc of Bay County

Annette Jeske was recently appointed Executive Director of the Arc of Bay County, which provides services to children and adults of Intellectual and Development Disabilities (IDD.) Jeske is a longtime advocate for persons with disabilities and older adults. She holds a Master's Degree in Health Services Administration, and spent the past 20 years working with various human service organizations. She spent the pandemic designing and testing a training program for Direct Support Professionals at MID Michigan Community College.
 
QUESTION: I think a lot of people are unfamiliar with the Arc of Bay County. Can you describe the agency's mission and how you reach that?
 
Annette JeskeANSWER: The Arc of Bay County is part of the largest national community-based organization advocating for and with people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) and serving them and their families. We are one of the more than 600 state and local chapters. The Arc of Bay County was established 70 years ago, and today continues with the goal of making sure that every individual and family living with IDD in our community has access to the information, advocacy, and skills they need to support their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes. 
 
Today, the Arc of Bay County serves as the Representative Payee for Social Security. This service helps hundreds of people. For a very nominal fee, the Arc manages a person's Social Security income, using it to pay that person’s rent, utilities, and healthcare costs. 
 
Then, there's Educational Advocacy. It’s not easy being a student or a parent these days, and school can be even more challenging when your child has an Intellectual or Developmental Disability. Thanks to a grant process through the Arc of Michigan and Michigan Alliance for Families, we are able to advocate when a student with an IDD is struggling in school, is at risk of being expelled, or is being punished or excluded from participating to the extent of their abilities. Educational Advocates also facilitate the Individualized Education Program (IEP) advocating for the child and parents and working along with the school to create a document that spells out the special education instructions, supports, and services needed for the student to be successful in school. 
 
The Arc of Bay County has a number of Independent Facilitators available for person-centered planning. When a person receives services and supports that are coordinated by community mental health and paid for by Medicaid, an annual person-centered plan is required. This plan outlines the services, budget, wishes, hopes and dreams of the recipient. Advantages of using an Independent Facilitator include having someone to help you pre-plan, advocate and help communicate what you want, and work with you to get the goals important to you, into your person-centered plan.
 
Other crucial efforts include advocating for beneficial legislation, and also personal advocacy and assistance in locating resources and services that may benefit a person who experiences IDD. 
 
Q: What are your goals for your first year on this job?
 
A: As the world returns to a new normal following the pandemic, I feel that our first priority at the Arc of Bay County is to build the alliances and good will necessary to make sure that every member of our community has the opportunities to reach their full potential. I'd like to grow our membership, increase visibility, and get some perspectives from people with disabilities and those who support them regarding what they want from the Arc. We are here to provide educational advocacy and independent facilitation and build relationships with organizations and individuals that support the mission. I would like to bring in some workshops on critical financial and legal topics and also some education about autism. We also are ready to take on additional people who would benefit from the Arc working as their Representative Payee. 
 
Q: How does Arc fit in with the other agencies providing services for this population? For example, school systems work with kids with disabilities. Disability Services Resource Center provides sports programs and durable medical equipment. Camp Fish Tales offers opportunities for outdoor recreation.
 
A: We are all partners in the process and so, hopefully, our efforts with advocacy and planning will benefit those who want to go to camp, play sports, socialize, or learn job-readiness skills as we collectively work toward community inclusion for people with IDDs. 
 
The Intermediate School District (ISD) along with school staff, parents, teachers, and bus drivers can all make the call to the Arc of Bay County if they feel a child with a disability, whether diagnosed or not, is in need of an advocate or is being bullied or excluded from activities. To build visibility, we're working on increasing our social media presence, making it easier for people to connect with us and exchange information.  
 
We are in the process of updating the database of programs and services in our communities and reintroducing ourselves so we're ready to make a referral when the call comes in, provide options and choices that fortify a person-centered plan, an IEP, or simply add some new opportunities or fun to a person's life.   
 
Q: Where are the gaps in services for people with intellectual and development disabilities in this community? Is there anything individuals or organizations can do to fill these gaps?
 
A: The Arc of Bay County could use a hand getting the word out about state/national legislative advocacy priorities including the direct care workforce crisis, that's people who provide services and supports and we could really use some meaningful opportunities for volunteering, employment, etc. 
 
Graphic courtesy of Arc of Bay CountyQ: Currently, the community is considering issues of how to become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. Delta College recently created a Chief Officer of Culture, Belonging, and Community Building at Delta College. (Click here to read a Sept. 1 story about Dr. Pamela Ross McClain.) The Bay Area Community Foundation conducted a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Survey. How does this emphasis affect the people you serve?
 
A: IDD don't discriminate, it affects all of humanity. If anything, I think we are more accepting, so let's acknowledge and embrace our differences and collectively move forward as a society.  
 
Q: What's one thing you wish people knew about Arc of Bay County?

A: The door is open, please join us, bring your ideas, help us advocate on behalf of persons with IDD and let's make true community inclusion a reality. 
 
Q: What's one thing you wish people understood about people with intellectual and developmental disabilities?
 
A: All humans are differently abled, everyone's contribution is important and should be valued.