The Arc of Bergen and Passaic Counties Inc.
Laura Sparks Blossfeld (1913-2002 ) and The Founding Members
Over seventy years ago a letter written by a Teaneck mother, Laura Sparks Blossfeld, appeared in the Bergen Evening Record which suggested the formation of an organization of parents. It outlined a plan for this new organization and called upon other parents to get together because “ each parent can ultimately help his own child by doing something to help all children similarly afflicted”. On June 10, 1947 the first general meeting was held at the YMCA in Paterson. Parents from a wide area were invited and forty-one attended. The Arc movement in New Jersey was born.
These early parents were true pioneers. This was a time when people did not speak about disability except in a whisper. Parents faced the journey alone. Children could not go to school, work, play or live in the community. Families had no options other than following their physician’s advice to “put their child away” in an institution or keep them “shut- in” at home.
It took courage to submit a public letter to the newspaper, it took courage for parents to write in response, and it took courage for them to come out to a meeting not knowing what to expect. But they did, and in doing so changed the course of disability in this Country forever.
The silence had ended and what replaced it was a roar from parents who would not sit by and allow their children to be excluded from all the rights and privileges afforded citizens of the United States. Through their work and advocacy laws were changed, doors were opened, rights were established, programs and services were developed. No longer would families face the journey alone, no longer would people talk about disability in a whisper, no longer would people be “put away” or “shut-in”.
With 700 chapters nationwide, The Arc movement became and remains the largest and most powerful voice in the Country for people with disabilities and their families.
Every individual, parent and citizen of this state owes a debt of gratitude to the vision courage and tireless energy of Laura Sparks Blossfeld and that band of pioneers. Their legacy lives on in The Arc of Bergen and Passaic Counties today.