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March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

Jeanette Matt2Advocate discusses the importance of awareness 

The month of March is designated as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. Monarch and The Arc of Stanly are joining nearly 700 Arc chapters nationwide to help show that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are people with real, relatable stories, living life just like everyone else.

This issue of News & Notes shares several stories about people with disabilities who are living their dreams and accomplishing their goals. We also feature staff members who work to ensure the people we support are successful. They, too, are positively rewarded by the experiences.

Although March is DD Awareness Month, Jeanette Wilhelm is one of those people at Monarch who advocates for people with disabilities every day of the year.

Wilhelm is an advocate for Monarch, which operates The Arc of Stanly County, and she has worked for the organization for 24 years. She sometimes gets calls from families all over the state in areas where The Arc no longer exists. Wilhelm gladly accepts those calls, assisting families as much as possible.

Wilhelm explained members of The Arc typically have a connection to someone with a disability.

“If there’s something we need volunteer-wise, there are folks we can call on,” she said. “We are the largest Arc in North Carolina, and we are also a part of Monarch now.”

Wilhelm’s son, Matthew, 27, began receiving services when he was 18 months old. He now lives in a Monarch group home.

“I was a young mother, and navigating through the system then was hard,” she remembered. “I wanted to help other families because I knew people struggled.”

Wilhelm started working 10 hours a week with The Arc.

“It just grew from there,” she said. “For me to really have a voice, I really needed a degree.”

Wilhelm received a degree in child development, as well as a master’s degree in counseling. She now works full-time for Monarch in quality management and advocacy. She is also a member of Monarch’s Human Rights Committee, which provides advocacy for people served to have the least restrictive environment possible.

Wilhelm said she has seen many positive changes over the years. In this presidential election year, she is focusing on voter registration for people with disabilities.

The Arc US is also urging people with disabilities and self-advocates to learn more about the voter registration process and to participate. For more information about their “Know Your Right to Vote” campaign and to view a step-by-step resource guide, click here. #DDAware

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