ArcGNO Goes Virtual With New Program


Before the novel coronavirus, a typical day at ArcGNO — an organization that supports children and adults with Down syndrome, autism, or other intellectual disabilities — meant more than 220 adults would arrive at one of the five local centers the agency manages. During the week, attendees would pick and choose among a list of activities on how to spend their day.

But all of that came to a screeching halt in mid-March when the agency was closed due to COVID-19.

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Now, through technology and a little ingenuity, those who wish to continue with day programs remotely can do so via Google and Zoom at the nonprofit’s new Virtual Community Center.

“When the pandemic hit and day programs were ordered to close, the first thought I had was about when I was going to be able to see our participants again,” says Jessika England, ArcGNO’s director of community integration.

The new virtual program includes a daily schedule of activities, such as cardio and yoga exercise classes, music and sing-along programs, work readiness and cooking classes. All the participants have to do is sign up and log in. While this may sound simple and no longer a rarity in today’s pandemic world, it is a bit trickier for ArcGNO as some of their participants are hard of hearing or completely deaf, and a few don’t speak at all.

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“Our group leaders have learned to use more hand signals and facial expressions to encourage feedback,” England says. “It’s definitely much harder to do via computer, but we are finding ways of making it work and keeping our participants connected and active even though they are at home.”

The program has provided a critical area of support for local individuals and families. Valerie Clark is the mother of Jay Ferguson, a 41-year-old participant at Arc of Greater New Orleans (ArcGNO). She says she initially wondered how she and her super-social son would survive quarantine, but the program has helped ease the struggle.

“The idea that this isolation could extend into the unknown future was too much to think about,” she says. “Jay enjoys his time at Arc in Covington more than anything else in his life, so when Arc offered the online option, I have to say I was skeptical to say the least. I definitely should not have been. Jay took to it immediately, enjoying the social, intellectual and physical stimulation. If we are going on a little outing, he hooks in on my cell phone in the car so he can participate on the road. I hardly think he has missed a session, much less more than an occasional day of virtual Arc.”

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One of the first hurdles ArcGNO had to overcome is the same one that faced many school children — a lack of universal access to a computer and internet service. Thanks to a grant from the Metropolitan Human Services District, the agency was able to purchase 16 electronic tablets for their clients. The agency continues to look for ways to fund more tablets or internet connection in homes.

For participants, the virtual center is not only a way to occupy their time doing productive activities from home, it’s also a way to stay connected with those they have not seen in person in months.

“I like the activities we do, and I love seeing my friends and staff,” says participant Jill Egle.

“It helps me to let go and not worry about COVID.”

England says she believes the virtual community center will continue even after the pandemic guidelines are lifted. She and her team are already researching and planning to expand available programs that will continue to be offered to those who wish to participate from home.

“I appreciate all the folks who have worked through all the details during this horrible time to keep our folks engaged,” Clark says. “It truly has been a godsend. Thanks to all who made this possible.”



Arc of Greater New Orleans (ArcGNO) works to secure for all people with intellectual disabilities opportunities to develop, function and live to their fullest potential.


Partners: ArcGNO collaborates with numerous community partners, such as the New Orleans Recreational Department, LSU Health Science Center and Tulane and Xavier universities. Those community partners are leading some of the programs being offered.


Numbers served: Pre-COVID-19, the program supported 259 participants across its five day-programs. On the virtual platform, it has about 90 individuals registered.


How can businesses help?

The program is looking into making “activity boxes” that would be delivered participant families that will include supplies inside to be used during its virtual activities. Donations of supplies or financial help to offset supply costs would be appreciated.


How can readers help? 

Whether it’s the donation of a talent or a financial donation, ArcGNO could use the support. The program’s emphasis on community integration calls for a large number of community collaborators to help host activities — whether that be musicians, chefs, dancers, artists or writers. Any individual looking to volunteer their talents for the day program can reach out to England directly at (504) 881-1974 or Financial donations can be made on ArcGNO’s website


Address: 925 Labarre Rd., Metairie, 70001

Phone: (504) 837-5105





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