Some organizations accept help from community volunteers. Some send volunteers out into the community. The Arc Westchester does both. The Arc Westchester is the largest organization in Westchester County that provides lifelong services to people of all ages with developmental disabilities. The Arc Westchester has a “robust” volunteer program, according to Chief Executive Officer Tibi Guzmán. They often accept volunteers from businesses and local corporations, as well as from high schools. “We offer lifelong services to 240 people in 44 residents throughout Westchester,” Guzmán said. “We have residents who have been with us for up to 34 years. The Arc Westchester is an organization that has been meeting for 74 years. We are community-focused and promote our values in each program we offer.”
Todd Bazzini, who has served as the Director of Volunteer Services & Fund Development at Arc since 2019, echoed Guzmán’s compliments of the organization’s volunteer program. He spoke to the incredible diversity within the group of volunteers that come into The Arc Westchester. Volunteers range from high schoolers to an eighty-year-old retired surgeon.
“I love this. I love our guys, I love our gang,” Bazzini said. “I love to find people that want to get involved and really have an experience like no other. You open your heart and you meet someone that’s just totally different than you, and you just have a great experience. And that’s how I cultivate our base of partners, whether it’s corporate, or high school, or someone who’s retired and wants to get involved.”
Connecting with the Community
The most unique thing about our volunteer program is that it is “full circle,” according to Guzmán. While volunteers frequently come in and work with people with developmental disabilities, The Arc Westchester also empowers people with developmental disabilities to go back out into the community and volunteer themselves.
She said that 50% of the people they serve participate in The Arc Westchester day programs go out and volunteer out in the community. In this way, the organization is not only supporting people with developmental disabilities but also supporting other nonprofits in the community.
Bazzini said that individuals supported at The Arc Westchester put in about 12,000 hours of volunteer work per year at other Westchester nonprofits.
“They’re in the community working and making a real difference,” Bazzini said. “That’s really the mission of The Arc Westchester, to enable someone who has a disability to live a full and enriching life.”
Two volunteers who work with people with developmental disabilities supported by The Arc also shared their experiences.
Michael Briganti began working with individuals with developmental disabilities as an undergraduate at Notre Dame. After graduating college, Briganti went on to work in finance for 41 years, during which he scarcely found the time for volunteering.
When he retired, though, he was eager to resume working with people with disabilities.
“I was looking around and doing a lot of research about where I could do this,” Briganti said. “As I was reading more and more, The Arc Westchester really stood out. They’ve been around 74 years, they have so many different programs, from guardianship to career development, to recreation. It just seemed like they were more experienced than anywhere else.”
With the help of Bazzini, Briganti put together a program where he plays sports with people with developmental disabilities supported by The Arc once a week. He works with a group of four to ten individuals ranging from age 26 to 34.
A Sense of Accomplishment
They play soccer, frisbee, football, tag and more. When the weather isn’t accommodating, Briganti and the people he works with go to the mall to play board games, cards or bingo. “Seeing their sense of accomplishment when they get something done, or the smile on their face when they have a good play, or the laughter when I mess up – which they love – it gives you a warm feeling,” he said “You know you’re making them happy and making a difference. It’s very, very fulfilling.”
In addition to his weekly group sports program, Briganti also meets once a week with a 28 year old living in one of Arc’s residences in Yonkers, who is a sports-data fanatic. When together, the two “grab a pizza and talk sports,” Briganti said.
Briganti said that he likes working consistently with the same small group of students, because it allows him to develop a relationship and really get to know the individuals he works with.
Just as he gets to know the individuals with developmental disabilities that he works with, those individuals also get to know him, Briganti said. They regularly ask about his family, his wife and his dogs.
While they call him “coach,” he considers them his friends.
For his birthday in March, Briganti’s students got together to put together a heartfelt gift. Along with a decorated poster and a framed picture of him and them, the individuals gave him a T-shirt that says “Coach Mike” on the front and has a group picture on the back.
He now tries to wear it every week when he goes to sessions. After months of volunteering with The Arc Westchester, Briganti joined their Board of Directors. “In this position, I can use my financial expertise and learn more about the company while still volunteering,” he said. “And that’s just what I want. While it is still early, I have been very impressed with the Board’s work.”
“The passion I’ve always had for the Arc’s mission, started in college and increased drastically when I got involved with The Arc,” he said. “I saw the impact that you could make when volunteering is arranged in such an organized way to make an impact. You see that the passion and the direction that they have as an organization to really execute their mission, vision, and values.”
Unlike Briganti, Manochere Alamgir had never worked with individuals with developmental disabilities before getting involved with The Arc. He first learned about Arc while reading in the Chappaqua Public Library, when he saw a group of Arc Westchester program participants exploring the library computers. The next day, he stopped by The Arc office and asked to volunteer.
He started out by hosting weekly meetings with groups of students. In those initial meetings, Alamgir would play spelling bee with students, or participate in a book club.
“But then I remember thinking that I wanted to bring something different to the table,” Alamgir said. “I wanted to talk to them, provided I could keep their attention, about banking and checking accounts and savings and stuff like that. And I tried to make it as fun as possible.”
Alamgir, who was a banker for over 30 years, drew upon and incorporated his own skills into his volunteerism with The Arc. According to Bazzini, this is a pillar of Arc’s mission-driven volunteerism.
In addition to teaching individuals about banking, Alamgir also runs a very popular weekly bingo session.
“I am driven by the desire to enable people to make their lives better,” he said. “So Arc is just the right thing for me. They have a very specific mission to enable young adults to become productive part of the community, with the ability to participate and to contribute. For me, just seeing them is a huge reward.”
When COVID hit and he could no longer run his trivia sessions in person, Alamgir adapted quickly, leading virtual bingo. He added in a trivia element to the weekly programming, which was viewed favorably by the people with whom he worked.
“I am successful in my professional career,” Alamgir said. “I have a wonderful family, two kids. You know, everything is fantastic. And this little piece of what I do, the reward that I get from that is absolutely amazing, and it’s not, it’s not easy to describe that. If there is anyone who is contemplating doing this, you can always find a niche for yourself, and there is nothing more rewarding.”
The Arc Westchester is the largest agency in Westchester County supporting children, teens and adults with developmental disabilities, including individuals on the autism spectrum, and their families. Over 700 employees provide more than 2,000 individuals throughout the county with a broad range of innovative and effective programs and services designed to foster independence, productivity and participation in community life. Learn more at www.arcwestchester.org