WILKES-BARRE — Frank Bartoli talked about his daughter, Ellie, who has Down syndrome, and how important state funding is to many programs she benefits from, as well as thousands of other people with intellectual and physical challenges.
“It seems we are always at a rally urging our legislators to approve necessary funding for programs and services for our children and loved ones,” Bartoli, of Pittston, said Friday. “There is money, plenty of money. It comes down to how you want to spend it.”
Bartoli was one of several speakers at a rally Friday afternoon on Public Square sponsored by The Arc that urged state legislators to provide — even increase — funding for critical programs for the disability community. About 100 people attended the rally.
Pamela Zotynia, executive director of The Arc of Luzerne County, and the parent of a person who has intellectual and developmental disabilities, was joined by several others who have concerns for their friends and neighbors.
“The Arc believes that all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are defined by their own strengths, abilities and inherent value, not by their disability,” Zotynia said.
Zotynia and the others spoke on behalf of the individuals served and their families who need their community to speak up for them and make sure their needs are addressed in the state budget that is being debated in Harrisburg.
Zotynia said more than 14,000 people statewide are on a waiting list for services and more than 4,000 of them have an emergency need.
“Yet, they still wait,” she said. “Many have been waiting for years, sometimes decades, hoping one day they will get the help they so desperately need.”
Zotynia said there are people with disabilities in the community who have nowhere to live because they have no family to help them, they can’t afford to live on their own or they are unable to care for themselves because of their disability.
Zotynia said many are asking for support because they want jobs so they can become financially independent, but they need a little extra help preparing for employment, learning a job skill, or getting to and from work.
The rally asked legislators for funding to:
• Provide community services for persons with intellectual disability so that 1,100 people can come off the emergency wait-list.
• Expand “Jobs for All,” an on-the-job-training program for young people.
• Increase special education by 2 percent.
• Restore the 10 percent cut from the Human Services Block Grant and the $1.2 million in community base funding.
Also offering comments were: Mike Zimmerman, chief executive officer at Family Service Association of Northeastern Pennsylvania; Karen Pasqualicchio from Disability Rights Network of PA; Bob Fox and Ed Ryan from the North East Pennsylvania Center for Independent Living; Audrey Gozdiskowski, representing the National Alliance on Mental Illness- NAMI- Wilkes Barre Chapter; Glenda Joy Race, member of NAMI and local educator; and several current and former students and self advocates from The Arc of Luzerne County’s TRACE Program who spoke on behalf of their peers.