Helping Hands: SF's The Arc builds bridge for adults in need

Helping Hands

Editor's Note: Today, The San Francisco Examiner begins a five-part series on the state of nonprofit organizations and how they navigate a city that is experiencing a historic economic boom, housing crisis and widening income gap.


TODAY: The Arc

Monday: Compass Family Services

Tuesday: AIDs Legal Referral Panel

Wednesday: Real Options for City Kids

Sunday: Independent Living Resource Center

Well into her 30s, saddled with a developmental disability, and lacking necessary credentials in her field of child care, Delia Feraro was dangerously close to falling through the widening cracks of society in San Francisco.

It's not that she didn't want to work — even a short time spent with the spunky 38-year-old tells you she isn't the type to sit idly for very long. Still, there were seemingly insurmountable obstacles to her job search among The City's day care facilities. Most places required official certification, and she simply couldn't complete the classes without help.

“I was getting too bored, like I want to do something, and I [was] working as a babysitter as a side job,” Feraro said. “I didn't have the units for school, and I was frustrated because I didn't know how to take notes. I kept looking for jobs, nonstop, no matter what.”

That's when Feraro found The Arc of San Francisco, a South of Market nonprofit that manages the cases of more than 700 adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Feraro was counseled through her certification process, landed a job and is now known as the “nap whisperer” at San Francisco's Jewish Community Center day care for her ability to keep the 3- to 5-year-olds getting crucial rest during sleep time.

The Arc takes on cases like Feraro's, aiming to connect people with jobs by building life-coping methods well after their school days — and thus, the public support system for individuals living with disabilities — are over.

“People with developmental disabilities are tracked into poverty, almost by design, and we're trying to counteract this formula,” said Arc CEO Glenn Motola, adding that while The City's recent tech industry resurgence comes with expanded job placement and fundraising opportunities, it also has sparked a crisis in local housing opportunities for both clients and traditionally low-paid nonprofit workers.

Like many other San Francisco nonprofits, The Arc is seeing more demand for services, along with increasing employee turnover, as the cost of living in The City continues to swell beyond the means of middle-class workers.

Motola said while private donations to The Arc have increased, state government funding remains flat as costs continue to increase. Still, The Arc is well-heeled in the sense that it is in the relatively unique position of owning its building, which is hopping with activity on any given afternoon. As the San Francisco population has grown over the past five years, the client list has increased by at least 10 percent, according to The Arc's figures.

When Mayor Ed Lee was first elected in 2011, he made it no secret that he wanted The City's growing tech companies — some of which receive payroll-tax incentives to remain here — to become the “new philanthropy” of San Francisco.

To that end, Twitter has recently provided services like conducting mock job interviews for Arc's clients. But The City itself could help fill some of the job needs, said Meredith Manning, The Arc's director of communications.

“There's a lot more they could do,” Manning said, noting that The City hadn't hired any Arc clients in eight years before a library job was recently granted.

Motola said public institutions should see The Arc's services less as charity, and more as an investment that will prevent additional burden on services like unemployment insurance, homeless shelters and hospitals.

“As corporate San Francisco continues to grow, the need for this service will continue to grow,” Motola said. “We have to be here. We are not a luxury organization.”

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