Ronald Kimball, the executive director of the Arc of Macomb County, says there’s “a long ways to go” before people with disabilities reach an equal place in society but they have come a long way during his 38-year career.
An open house celebrating Kimball’s retirement is planned from 1:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 19 at the Arc’s office in Clinton Township.
Kimball lives in Waterford with his wife, Louise, and they have a son, Jay, 38, also of Waterford. His retirement is effective Feb. 28.
“I truly loved working with people with disabilities,” said Kimball, who became the Arc executive director in 1976. “Helping them always has been the best part of my job.”
Kimball came to the Arc from Goodwill Industries. During his tenure, the Arc has grown from about 40 employees to more than 170. Lisa P. Lepine, the current Arc deputy director, will succeed Kimball.
“Ron has been a phenomenal mentor, a wonderful teacher,” she said. “I have appreciated the years that I have learned from him, and I look forward to his support for many more.”
Kimball said he was “probably going to become a professional volunteer.”
As for people with disabilities, he said: “We still have a long ways to go, but I actually have seen people with disabilities come a long ways to become more assimilated in society.”
Kimball, 67, said it was critical that people with disabilities gain greater access to jobs. “However, with the way jobs have been in Michigan, it’s hard. We have had some success in getting people jobs in the community with help from job coaches. After the individual no longer needs a job coach, we follow up with the employer to see if there are any difficulties. We will do what we can do to salvage a person’s job.”
Kimball said leaders in southeastern Michigan must “do a much better job in finding transportation.”
He also said more independent living arrangements are needed for those with disabilities. “They should have their own places, condos, apartments and housemates and staff as needed.”
He recalled a case where a Monroe woman worked with mental health officials and now her son lives in a home she bought for him and a roommate.
“Now, Michael is doing great. It’s amazing.”
Since the early 1970s, the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center and others such as Kimball have worked to close all 12 state institutions where people with disabilities or mental illness were housed and moved into apartments, homes, or condos with caregivers, saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
However, many states, such as New Jersey, still have state-operated institutions where it costs more than $300,000 a year per person to care for one individual with a disability.
Jerry Wolffe is the writer-in-residence/advocate-at-large at the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center. He can be reached at (586) 263-8950.