Acing Inclusive Culture: The Arc Lexington’s Inspirational Journey

Top 10 Most Impactful DEI Leaders to Follow in 2024

The Arc Lexington has etched its name among “The 10 Best Workplaces for Diversity in 2023.” This organization acknowledges that the foundation of a great workplace is creating and fostering a nurturing environment, cultivating strong communication and collaboration between leaders and employees with the ultimate goal of ensuring that the people who receive services are living their best lives.  The Arc Lexington has been dedicated to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives from its founding, and this dedication has included progress and continual development. It infuses the essence of DEI into the fabric of its operations. To guarantee that no one ever feels alone, it is committed to creating a space that welcomes and appreciates diversity throughout.

The DEI journey at The Arc Lexington has been greatly aided by the “Nurturing Environment” program, spearheaded by CEO/Executive Director Shaloni Winston and Deputy Executive Director Dan Richardson. Through regular meetings, employees are encouraged to stay informed about agency matters, share feedback, and connect, fostering open communication. Furthermore, its HR department actively collaborates with the entire organization to implement inclusive policies, provide DEI training, and promote equity across the board.

In this exclusive feature, we will delve deeper into the success story of The Arc Lexington, a brand that has become a role model for many in the field. Alongside this, we’ll gain valuable insights into the thoughts, perspectives, and forward-looking vision of Shaloni Winston, the CEO and Executive Director of the company and her management team.

Founding Visionaries: The Genesis of The Arc Lexington in 1953

Back in 1953, in Fulton County, NY, a small group of parents with children with developmental disabilities united around a shared objective. Their aim was simple yet profound: to secure the opportunity for their children to stay in their homes while receiving the same educational provisions available to all youngsters.

Collaboratively, they established the Fulton County Chapter of NYSARC, Inc., a legacy that has evolved into what is now recognized as The Arc Lexington. This inception, born as a supportive network for children and their families, has blossomed over six decades into an agency characterized by its profound mission, comprehensive services, and adept management.

Comprehensive Services Offered by The Arc Lexington

At the heart of The Arc Lexington’s commitment lies an unwavering mission: empowering individuals with autism and developmental disabilities to embrace their fullest potential daily. This organization makes strides toward realizing this vision through collaborative partnerships with families, employees, and the wider community. With a scope extending across Fulton, Schoharie, and Albany counties, The Arc Lexington supports over 1300 individuals encompassing various intellectual and developmental challenges, such as autism, mental illness, cerebral palsy, physical disabilities, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injuries.

The Arc Lexington extends a diverse array of services tailored to meet the unique needs of each individual:

  1. Autism Support Services:Crafted to address specific needs, these services employ evidence-based interactions and communication tools to facilitate progress and development.
  2. Article 16 Clinic:Fostering independence, integration, and productivity across diverse areas, this clinic opens doors to enhanced self-sufficiency.
  3. Child and Adolescent Program Services:Offering an assortment of supports for youngsters with autism, intellectual disabilities, and other developmental challenges, along with support for their families within Fulton County.
  4. Community Supports:Catering to the needs of more than 200 families within local neighborhoods, these offerings encompass respite care, after-school programs, recreational activities during evenings and weekends, parent support groups, training initiatives, and more.
  5. Day Supports:With a presence in both Fulton and Schoharie counties, these programs, numbering 15 in Fulton and two in Schoharie, foster growth for over 500 individuals. The programs provide a platform for pursuing personal interests and achieving goals while addressing unique needs.
  6. Employment Supports:Partnering with around 50 local employers, this initiative supports approximately 200 individuals, with over 100 actively employed within the community. The program ensures a thriving employer-employee relationship through training, coaching, and other essential support.
  7. Guardianship:Providing a legal framework for advocating for individuals unable to act independently due to intellectual and developmental challenges. Guardians oversee medical treatment and address emotional and social needs.
  8. Residential Supports:Extending across Fulton, Albany, and Schoharie Counties, these supports, tailored to each person’s preferences, provide housing and care for over 500 individuals within diverse community settings.
  9. Traumatic Brain Injury Supports:It is dedicated to those affected by brain injuries caused by accidents, strokes, or other causes. This program includes therapy, socialization, and recreation for recovery and rehabilitation.

The Arc Lexington: Accolades and Recognition

The Arc Lexington has been honored for its unique initiatives and exceptional achievements. In January 2022, it earned the Council on Quality and Leadership’s (CQL’s) Person-Centered Excellence Accreditation with Distinction. This made it one of only 11 organizations worldwide to achieve this feat.

CQL’s Person-Centered Excellence Accreditation, with Distinction, is a four-year accreditation. It has the most stringent standards for human service organizations, requiring measurable results. Organizations that demonstrate deeply embedded, person-centered approaches and practices are eligible to receive this CQL Accreditation level. It includes strict eligibility criteria, rigorous expectations involving the impact of supports on outcomes, and robust data collection and analysis requirements. This accreditation honors Lexington’s outstanding operational management, inclusive organizational culture, and strategic planning for the future.

In April 2022, The Arc Lexington received a Times Union Top Workplace Award for 2022. This designation was based on its staff members’ answers to a Top Workplace survey.   It was recognized as a great place to work in the greater Capital Region. A “Meaningful Award” was also awarded to them based on input directly from staff.

The Schoharie County Chamber of Commerce presented The Arc Lexington with the People’s Choice Award in May 2023. This honor goes to an organization in Schoharie County that has significantly contributed to its local community and improved the quality of life there.

Steering Industry Dynamics: The Arc Lexington’s Role in Today’s Landscape

The Arc Lexington is committed to exploring innovative approaches to all services they provide.   Through this ongoing assessment, gaps and potential enhancements come to light, enabling the refinement of existing programs and the inception of novel ones, all in the pursuit of optimally catering to the unique needs of those they support.

This journey hinges on the collaboration with a broader networkWinston notes that Lexington’s employees provide unwavering dedication, compassion, and their commitment to our mission is truly inspiring.  It is because if them that we are able to make such a positive impact in the lives of those we support. We also couldn’t do this without the help of our community partners who continually support the mission of Lexington.

Evolution and Innovation: The Arc Lexington’s Remarkable Journey

The firm’s trajectory of growth throughout the years showcases its commitment to leading the way in addressing evolving needs. As the premier employer in Fulton County, with a workforce exceeding 1600 employees, the organization maintains a proactive stance in seeking future growth opportunities.

Pioneering Tailored Supports: An illustration of The Arc Lexington’s forward-looking approach is the establishment of ‘Transitions.’ Transitions fills a critical void by catering to students and young adults with learning differences who transition from high school. This innovative post-secondary program propels individuals toward success in college, careers, and life. With an emphasis on fostering self-advocacy, employment growth, and social adeptness, Transitions offers practical life skills alongside real-world experience and academic pursuits. The program’s expansion has been facilitated through strategic collaborations, encompassing institutions like the Savannah College of Art & Design, Fulton-Montgomery Community College, Virginia Commonwealth University’s Autism Center for Excellence, and others. The recent inauguration of a cutting-edge campus at Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany, NY, in December 2022, along with an expansion into Schoharie County through a partnership with SUNY Cobleskill, further underscores Transitions’ transformative impact.

Cultivating Creative Expression: Another groundbreaking endeavor, the Paul Nigra Center for Creative Arts, took root in 2015. The Nigra Arts Center offers a diverse offering of classes, entertainment, exhibitions, and special events. This creative and inclusive environment provides an avenue for artistic expression where all aspiring and established artists, both with and without disabilities, can flourish.  This stands as a testament to inclusivity.

Catalyzing Transformation: Leadership at The Arc Lexington

The Arc Lexington experienced a significant transformation in 2020 as they orchestrated the integration of Lexington and Schoharie Arc, culminating in an expansive spectrum of services spanning homes, day programs, employment initiatives, and community support throughout Schoharie County. A special focus was placed on the integration of the Schoharie team into the Lexington family throughout the merger process.  This again speaks to our ongoing commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Fostering Motivation: Strategies at The Arc Lexington

Creating a nurturing, caring, and secure environment is a key focus for The Arc Lexington’s approach. Monthly forums serve as collaborative platforms for employees, supported individuals, and their families to exchange ideas, share best practices, and offer feedback. The Nurturing Environment Program has consistently elevated employee morale and upheld the caliber of care for the people they support.

A cornerstone of success within Lexington is effective communication. Implementing Workplace, an internal social media platform akin to Facebook but tailored to the organization and its workforce, has been an impactful tool. Here, staff can celebrate achievements with those they support, disseminate vital information, and commend colleagues through appreciative shout-outs.

The culture of recognition extends to an annual event dedicated to honoring staff and commemorating years of dedicated service. Personalized speeches underscore each employee’s distinctive contributions to The Arc Lexington, while managers are actively encouraged to spotlight exceptional individuals within their respective departments. Called “Lexington Champions,” these individuals are lauded for exceeding expectations, further fueling motivation and reinforcing the organization’s ethos of excellence.

The Arc Lexington is an organization devoted to ensuring that people with developmental disabilities live their best lives. Through its leadership, comprehensive services and ability to adapt to a changing industry and increased demands, The Arc Lexington continues to be an innovative company that keeps their employees and the people they serve at the forefront, while also raising awareness to others about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion.