New Colorado Springs community center designed to make dreams come true

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — For the first nine years of his life, Jack Williams couldn’t speak. He was diagnosed as autistic at 3, and doctors considered him functionally nonverbal.

“We used to speak to him in very set phrases, using a little bit of sign language mixed in, and his ability to reply to us and communicate with us was limited,” said Joy Blackburn, Jack’s mother.

At the time, Joy didn’t know about The Arc. She said their family almost went broke trying to get Jack the help he needed.

“We need speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, we need feeding therapy, behavioral therapy, we need all these different therapies,” said Joy. “So we opened up the bank account and dumped everything out and we went bankrupt pretty quick.”

In the meantime, Joy gave Jack her old cell phone, and he started using the camera to make videos.

“It was just a fluke,” she said. “I did not figure out that a camcorder was going to work for Jack. Jack figured that out.”

Eventually Jack started speaking. In a matter of weeks, he was a new person.

“What I love about filmmaking is to make people laugh,” said Jack.

“It was almost if all the language had been in there all along and he used this as a tool to unscramble it,” Joy said.

Since then, Jack has made dozens of videos and even won some awards.

“Well, I’ve been filming since I got a camera so it’s been like 200 or more videos,” said Jack.

He shares some of his videos on his YouTube page, but he’s also had films make it to the big screen at the Arc’s Annual Film Festival.

When most people think about The Arc, the clothing store typically comes to mind, but The Arc actually does a lot more.

“For 62 years, The Arc has been in our community providing advocacy, guardianship, education for families and also social opportunities,” said Hanna Widmer, an Advocacy Specialist for The Arc. “And we are able to provide all this advocacy because Arc Thrift Stores fund us and allow us to provide all of it for free.”

Joy said The Arc provided her with resources she never would have known about, and wishes she had found it sooner.

“We’d be much better off financially as a result had we known about it earlier,” she said. “The Arc is like a banquet of tools and opportunities and knowledge.”

Joy said The Arc has also given Jack tremendous opportunities to socialize and express himself.

“They gave him this incredible opportunity to show his cell phone videos on a big screen in a real theater in front of an audience,” she said. “I just can’t imagine how cool that must have been for him.”

“Sometimes whenever I see strangers they seem to like me,” said Jack.

But now The Arc is ready to do even more, and wants to build a brand new community center for people with disabilities.

“People have dreams and people have goals and a lot of times there just isn’t the resources out there for their dreams to become realities,” said Widmer. “Jack has an amazing story and great skills as a filmmaker and at The Arc we want to make that the norm. We want to find what people want to do and then give them the skills to do it.”

The new center will have a library full of information, along with a computer lab and a teaching kitchen.

“We will invite chefs from around town who might not have ever worked with people with disabilities and so it’s an opportunity to expose people and build natural supports,” said Widmer.

“These kids, as they travel through the school system there’s like a basket of community supports that follow them until they graduate and once they graduate those supports are gone,” said Joy. “This new center is going to be there to catch them. It’s going to pick up where the schools left off and get them ready for the world.”

“It’s going to produce people who are ready to contribute to the community,” she added.

The Arc’s goal is to raise 2.5 million dollars and have the community center up and running by the beginning of 2018.

To learn more or to donate, visit The Arc website.

Meanwhile, Jack said his goal is to get 1 million subscribers on his YouTube page before he gets married.

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