Cassidy Hooper

Cassidy Hooper serves as the Community Navigator for the Arc of Northeast Mississippi Autism Now Division.

TUPELO • Starting a new group is challenging even amid normal circumstances, but Arc of Northeast Mississippi is determined to expand its outreach and fundraise even amid pandemic challenges.

The Arc of Northeast Mississippi, a grassroots organization supporting individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, still answers phone calls, shares information and remains in contact with its members virtually, but COVID-19 has impacted its social outreach, said Executive Director Cheryl Falzone.

“We would like to set up some informationals, almost, to talk a little bit more about our organization and the changes that are taking place, because they’re all new to us, too,” Falzone said. “We are trying to adapt (what) we do with the technology to us and yet still keep that grassroots connection with our members.”

A new initiative using technology is the Arc of Northeast Mississippi Autism Now Division. The group is a wing of the Arc that will focus on people of all ages on the autism spectrum.

“My goal is to help individuals on the autism spectrum of all ages with executive functioning, self advocacy, with self-care and hygiene, vocational training ... housing, (and) employment,” said Cassidy Hooper, the Community Navigator for the Autism Now Division.

While the pandemic has halted some in-person programming, Hooper started podcasts interviewing others on the spectrum as a way to share their experiences. She said that while the goal was always to use podcasts, the coronavirus made it a more important tool for advocacy.

“People can’t get out of their house, so podcasts are a great way to do it by audio, voice, long distance,” Hooper said. “We just wanted to create the vision to help individuals on the autism spectrum reach their fullest potential.”

Hooper and Falzone discussed creating a group specifically for those on the autism spectrum prior to COVID-19. Hooper leads the group and said as an adult on the autism spectrum, she wanted to start the group to help others navigate adulthood and assist young adults in transitioning to adulthood.

The program will start webinars and other resources based on community need. The group’s Facebook page, the Arc of Northeast Mississippi Autism Now Division, serves as a resource for the online community. While Hooper has received great feedback to online efforts, she looks forward to when the division can have volunteers and host social events such as fundraisers and support groups. She wants the community to take away hope that they are not alone with this organization.

“I’m excited for hopefully connecting with other individuals in Northeast Mississippi that are on the autism spectrum, especially adults,” Hooper said.

The Arc still offers member-only meetings through Zoom. Staff use Zoom to help members who need information, stay in conference with parents, and offer constant peer support, and they are working on creating an advocacy video with information about Arc’s mission to share with their members.

Regular meetings, such as their Lunch and Learn on the first Friday each month, was canceled since shelter-in-place orders were implemented. Their yearly Arc in the Park, one of their biggest days to raise awareness within the community, is scheduled for May 25, but Falzone said it is unlikely they can host it on its original date at this time. At this time, the chapter is focusing on fulfilling community needs and encouraging community feedback.

“I want so desperately for things to get to at least what our normal is going to be, but right now, we’re going to focus on going in and finding out how (our parents and our members) have been adjusting and what their needs are going to be, because their needs are changing now, too,” Falzone said.

The Arc will host an online yard sale from May 2-9. Items will be posted in the local Facebook Marketplace and on the Arc of Northeast Mississippi Facebook event page. All proceeds will go to the Arc.

More information about the Arc or ways to donate can be found at http://arcnems.org. Those seeking assistance can call 662-222-1850 anytime and leave a message if there is no answer. Information about the Autism Now Division can be found at https://www.facebook.com/arcnemsautismnow.

danny.mcarthur@journalinc.com

Twitter: @Danny_McArthur_

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