The history of Lifeworks really begins with the history of our affiliated organization, The Arc of South Norfolk. Lifeworks and The Arc of South Norfolk are two separate legal organizations with each agency having their own Board of Directors. The two agencies are affiliated by common management and a shared mission which is to advocate for the rights of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and to provide quality services to the people we support and to their families. In order to fully understand our organization and the supports we provide, it is important to understand our beginnings.

The Arc of South Norfolk began in 1954 by a group of concerned parents who were looking to advocate for services for their children with developmental disabilities. At that time, the only options available to families were to place their children in large institutional settings or to keep them at home full-time. There were no public school programs and no outside support services available to them. These parents were looking for alternatives to the institutionalization or social isolation of their children. In the hope of advocating for or creating these alternatives, they began to meet in living rooms on a regular basis and from these gatherings was formed the beginnings of The Arc of South Norfolk. By the 1960’s, they had created some of the first programs of their kind in Massachusetts including: a clinical nursery, a day care program for children and a summer camp. The Arc of South Norfolk became a member of the Arc of Massachusetts, a statewide umbrella agency of Arcs from throughout the state. Working alongside this newly formed coalition, The Arc of South Norfolk became a leader in securing legal, legislative and regulatory protections and rights for persons with developmental disabilities. These included the first Special Education law in the United States known as Chapter 766. With these advances as a springboard, The Arc of South Norfolk went on to develop integrated, community-based programs and services and to work for the closure of state institutions.

In 1972, The Arc of South Norfolk started their first program for adults, the Day Activity Center. In 1975, The Arc of South Norfolk’s Board of Directors hired their first Executive Director, Bill Abel, who, by the time of his retirement 35 years later, had enabled the creation of a wide range and variety of programs which currently serve 900 people and employ over 250 full- and part-time staff. In 1976, The Arc of South Norfolk opened its employment training program then called Norfolk Industrial Services which has evolved and grown into what today is the Lifeworks Employment Services.

Another milestone in 1976 was the opening of The Arc of South Norfolk’s first community residence in Sharon for women. In 1977, The Arc of South Norfolk established it’s Cooperative Apartment Program, today known as the Lifeworks Supported Living Program, which enables more capable individuals to live with optimal independence in their own apartments with the support of walk-in staff.

Today, these pioneering examples of integrated community-based residential alternatives to institutions are a part of the extensive Lifeworks network of residential programs. Also in 1977, The Arc of South Norfolk converted its Day Activity Center into the Day Habilitation Center which provided a more intensive educational program for adults and added much needed medical, behavioral and therapeutic supports. In addition to the establishment and development of its vocational, day and residential programs, The Arc of South Norfolk, during this period of the late 1970’s, was able to create what were innovative community programs including one of the first Early Intervention programs in the country, a program which provided a range of therapeutic services for infants from birth through age 3. An early model for family support services known as the Respite Care Program, a mental health program providing specialized counseling tailored to persons with developmental disabilities and an expanded, professionally directed social and recreational program were also developed during this period.

From these early beginnings to the late 1980’s, The Arc of South Norfolk had worked to expand, diversify and improve its employment services and day programs to enable the provision of the highest quality services to over 300 people. By this time it had also expanded its residential programs to a total of seven homes. In addition to these efforts to create new programs and services, The Arc of South Norfolk had by the late 80’s built extensively on its reputation as a leading advocacy voice for persons with developmental disabilities and their families. In light of the new and growing demands these successes were placing on old management structures, a study committee was formed in 1989 to determine whether changes in these structures might be needed. The deliberations and analysis conducted by this committee did indeed result in recommended changes and these included the recommendation that a new 501c(3) non-profit organization be created as an affiliate with The Arc of South Norfolk to assume responsibility for the residential and vocational programs. Concurring with this recommendation, The Arc of South Norfolk Board and executive management established Lifeworks and on July 1, 1990 transferred full legal and managerial responsibility for all its residential and vocational training programs to this new entity.

The mission assigned to Lifeworks was to: “Provide jobs and homes for persons with developmental disabilities”. In order to ensure that the missions of The Arc of South Norfolk and the newly formed Lifeworks be coordinated, cooperative and mutually supporting, it was determined that, although they would have non-overlapping Boards, they would be organized as related parties under common management (having a shared CEO). Today, the structure of our two agencies remains the same. Each organization has an independent Board but a shared CEO (Dan Burke) who reports to both Boards and is in this dual role able to maximize cost efficiencies and programming effectiveness for both organizations by coordinating their activities and use of resources.

Since 1990, Lifeworks has added 7 new residential programs for a total of 15 located in the towns of Norwood, Westwood, Walpole, Foxboro, Wrentham, Plainville, Sharon, Attleboro and Natick. This expansion in residential services included significant growth in the Supported Living Program, from a single apartment serving 3 men in 1977 to several apartments serving 45 individuals who receive between 4 and 24 hours of direct staff support weekly. In 1991, Lifeworks opened a second Employment Center that is today located in West Roxbury and provides services to over 60 individuals.

In 2011, Lifeworks provides supports to an average of over 320 people annually throughout community residential and supported living programs and our employment programs. We accomplish this with 180 full- and part-time staff as well as over 75 substitute staff supporting our work every day. These direct care staff are the essential key to the success of Lifeworks programs. Since its inception, Lifeworks has been committed to the hiring of the highest quality staff and providing those staff with extensive support and professional training. All full-time staff responsible for providing direct care are required to have a bachelor’s degree and to have had successful direct care experience. Because of the compassionate and skillful work performed by these dedicated staff, Lifeworks continues to grow and explore new opportunities to serve those who need our help. Please contact us for information on how you can be involved in this vibrant and caring community.