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Empowering Families into the Future

Empowering Families into the Future

Forty eight years ago Theresa and Harvey Varnet gave birth to their daughter Jennifer, who was born with a disability. Confronted with the challenges of raising a newborn with unique needs, they joined a local chapter of The Arc in Massachusetts. From the very beginning Theresa and Harvey sought out the information they would need to best serve their daughter's needs.

Due to the knowledge Theresa gained from The Arc and parent support meetings, she chose a professional career that began as a teacher, and later led her to get her Master's degree in Social Work. After many years of working in these two areas, she came to realize that many of the issues she and other parents were facing were legal. This ultimately led her to law school and a new career that continues to be focused on helping other parents who find themselves in a similar situation.

For Theresa, legislation like the IDEA Act (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) recognizes that education is a civil right and, like so many laws, has positively benefitted Jennifer and every American living with disabilities. In fact, Jennifer was part of the first class of children who were able to attend public school after the law went into effect. According to Theresa, "without The Arc those federal laws wouldn't exist."

Today Jennifer has a career and she lives independently thanks to the Fair Housing Act and changes brought about by a lawsuit filed by the state chapter of The Arc against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. For the Varnet family, The Arc has made a world of difference in their lives and provided opportunities that would not exist today without the strong advocacy network at the national, state and local levels.

As a result, Theresa and Harvey have chosen The Arc to be one of four remainder beneficiaries to the special needs trust that they created for Jennifer. According to Theresa, this gift is based on the great value that they received from The Arc over many years.

Theresa wants other parents to receive the same education and advocacy skills that she acquired through The Arc. For her, "knowledge is power." Additionally, she wants people to know that "if we, as parents, don't provide bequests for The Arc, it may not be there for the next generation. Leaving a bequest to The Arc improves its chance of survival and ability to continue to advocate for our children and educate and inform the next generation of parents."