Life is unpredictable; you never know when you might need support. When Sharon and Andrew Ryder welcomed their son James into the world, they were shocked when they learned he was diagnosed with Down Syndrome. “It’s a diagnosis you’re never prepared to hear,” says Sharon. Quickly, the family felt overwhelmed.
While there are an estimated 8,800 individuals living with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Snohomish County, the social safety net is still sparse, leaving individuals and families desperate for the tools and connections they need to fully live, work and play in their community.
As James grew, the Ryder family felt deeply that they needed support to successfully raise a child with special needs. When they learned about a United Way funded program offered through the Arc of Snohomish County, they knew it was a perfect fit. The Arc supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families at all stages of life.
Through the Arc, the Ryder’s lives were transformed. The family found classes and resources for James, now 11 years old, as well as their youngest son, who attends a support group for the siblings of special needs children.
“The Arc has been so important to us. It has connected us to the community and support we needed to raise our children. We’re not alone in this anymore,” Sharon says.
In addition to programs for their children, Sharon and Andrew have also found opportunities for themselves through the Arc. Andrew recently graduated from the organization’s community leadership program, which focuses on advocacy and communication. Since graduating, he has volunteered as a lobbyist in Olympia in support of disability issues, impacting countless lives through legislation.
Work with the Arc has also inspired the Ryder family to start a disability outreach program at their church, which has moved members of the congregation to volunteer and raise funds for special needs programs in Snohomish County.
“The education we’ve received through the Arc has changed our lives, and now we’re paying it forward,” Sharon says.