‘Arc Tank’ competition is changing lives of disabled through innovation

NOVEMBER 30, 2017 – In 2002, Jo Ann Simons and Steven P. Rosenthal happened to pick neighboring elliptical machines at the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore in Marblehead. During their workout, they chatted. Simons learned of Rosenthal’s interest in philanthropy; Rosenthal learned about Simons’ interest in intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Neither had a clue that 15 years later, they would partner to revolutionize the way their two fields could intersect.

It all started when Rosenthal was planning his 2017 donations. The Marblehead resident and former CEO of Northland Investment Corp. knew he wanted to do more than just write the traditional check to a nonprofit that supports his core values of “tikun olam” (repair the world). He wanted to inject innovation and creativity into the process, setting an example that might encourage other philanthropists to think outside the box.

He immediately thought of Simons, now CEO of Danvers-based Northeast Arc, which is at the forefront of providing innovative services, education, and training to 9,000 adults and children with disabilities each year.

“We are a thought leader. We want to establish ourselves as the most innovative, creative, strategic organization in our industry,” Simons said of Northeast Arc, which has 1,100 employees and a $250 million budget, and reaches 190 communities throughout eastern Massachusetts.

It was a good fit. Rosenthal, who now runs the Boston real estate investment firm called West Shore LLC, donated $1 million to Northeast Arc to launch The Changing Lives Fund. He, Simons, and the Arc board of directors then brainstormed to come up with a groundbreaking approach to spending that money.

“We thought, what a novel concept if — instead of keeping the money — we decided we were going to try to inspire the most creative ideas within our industry,” said Simons, who lives in Swampscott and is a Swampscott High School graduate. “Steve’s vision of philanthropy helps us identify a new, nuanced role.”

Borrowing from the name and competitive methodology of “Shark Tank,” the popular ABC television show, the team created “Arc Tank,” where anyone with a creative concept to aid people with disabilities can pitch an idea and compete for funding from The Changing Lives Fund.

“We realized we can develop initiatives that support our mission and leverage the money for a greater impact if we give it away,” Simons said.

Of the 100 proposals from all over the world that flooded in after the competition was advertised, 45 were selected for the “holding tank.” Outside reviewers recommended seven finalists.

The inaugural Arc Tank contest, collaboration between Northeast Arc and the JFK Library Foundation, took place on Nov. 15 at the JFK Presidential Library and Museum and awarded $200,000. Over 300 people attended.

A panel of judges awarded grants to three winners who “positively disrupted the conventional methods of providing services to persons with disabilities.”

• Pathways to Inclusive Healthcare,” submitted by Dr. Carolyn Langer, associate professor at UMass Medical Center in Worcester, received $80,000 to develop a pipeline of healthcare professionals to ease the transition from pediatrics to adult medicine care.

• The Center for Public Representation of Northampton, a public service law firm, received $85,000 for its proposal, “Disrupting the Guardianship Pipeline,” to create an effective alternative to guardianship, often the only option for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

• “Water Wise,” submitted by the YMCA of the North Shore in Beverly, addresses the fact that drowning is a leading cause of death for children with Autism spectrum disorder by developing a water safety program that targets specific needs. The $30,000 grant will fund the program in two locations next year, with plans to expand to eight sites by 2019.

In addition, two incubator proposals were awarded $2,500 each.  Andrew Holmes of Winchester, a junior at Olin College of Engineering in Needham, is developing “Shop, Drop and Roll,” a wheelchair attachment that simplifies the transport and accessibility of goods on the back of a wheelchair. Nathaniel Lorenz Galdamez, a freshman at Swampscott High School, is designing “The BIONIC hand,” a wrist device to assist computer usage.

Rosenthal couldn’t be more pleased with the first Arc Tank. “The event was a terrific success. I think we have started an important and much needed conversation about innovation and philanthropy,” he said.

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Salem Artist Tapped as New ArcWorks Director

 

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Lifelong artist Susan Dodge loves her new position as Director of ArcWorks Community Center in Peabody. “The job I am doing now is just such a reward. I smile everyday. I’m happy to go to work. And I get to do so many things I really love, like curating shows, working with artists and envisioning what the next project will be,” the Salem resident said during an interview at The Bridge at 211 in Salem, where she currently has a piece on exhibit.

 

The Northeast Arc (NeArc) is a not-for-profit organization that helps children and adults with disabilities become full participants in the community. ArcWorks is its inclusive art center, which serves artists and viewers of all talents, skills, interests and backgrounds and provides artistic opportunity for people with and without disabilities.

 

In her role as its director, Dodge is responsible for scheduling gallery shows at both the art center and Breaking Grounds, the coffee shop in Peabody that NeArc runs. She also creates curriculum and teaches various art classes during the day to NeArc clients and in the evening to community members.

 

“I am happily tired at the end of the day,” Dodge said with a smile.

 

Tim Brown, Dodge’s supervisor and NeArc’s Director of Innovation and Strategy, couldn’t be more pleased to have Dodge on board.

 

“I have been a personal fan of Susan’s art for many years,” he said. “What I did not know was how each step in her personal journey fit so nicely into the model we wanted to develop.”

 

Dodge’s impressive resumé includes teaching art; a commission for 48 paintings at the famed Palm Beach, Florida property, The Breakers; a seven-year stint as Project Manager at a web design firm; a business career in sales and marketing at The Hawthorne Hotel; curating many art shows, and owning her own pottery studio, The Artful Dodger, through which she sold murals, tiles and signature pottery throughout the U.S. and the Virgin Islands.

 

She earned a B.F.A from Massachusetts College of Art and returned to school at age 48 for a certificate in digital graphic design.

 

According to Brown, the diversity of Dodge’s experience was exactly what NeArc hoped a new director bring to the position — the abilities both to develop an engaging class structure using a variety of mediums, and to manage the Gallery Shows and Shop within the ArcWorks program.

 

“Within her first four months at NeArc, she has curated five different gallery shows. Each show brought new artists and viewers, expanding our reach and recognition within the art community,” he said.

Prior to her current position, Dodge has always taught private art classes to children. This is her first time working with students with disabilities, but she sees more similarities than differences.

 

“I look at people with disabilities as just people. Creating art in so many ways is about honing a technique and seeing things. Everyone has their own vision of how they see things. Basically, making art is just translating that vision into an object or putting it on a canvas or a paper,” she said.

 

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Susan Dodge is working with Polyvios Christoforos on a painting that was ultimately featured in a collection of greeting cards handed out at the Ne-Arc “An Evening of Changing Lives Dinner and Fashion Show” on April 29

 

She works with 25-year-old Polyvios Christoforos twice a week. “He is a prolific painter. We work together really well,” she said. Christoforos’ work was featured in a collection of greeting cards handed out at NeArc’s “An Evening of Changing Lives Dinner and Fashion Show” on April 29.

 

“When you teach people with disabilities, you have to be really present, and compassionate and listen really well,” Dodge said, noting that many of her clients have speech-related issues. “I have developed different ways I work with people” depending on their needs.

 

Over the years and from her teaching experiences in the U.S. and abroad, Dodge has noticed a consistent and common thread among all her students: they share an eagerness to create something they can be proud of.

 

“In my core, I believe that everyone is an artist. It’s just a matter of letting yourself do it without judging what you’re doing,” she said.

 

For more information, visit ne-arc.org.