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Holding the Door Open for Those with Disabilities

Northeast Arc’s new Center for Linking Lives creates hub for inclusivity at Liberty Tree Mall

Editor’s Note: This piece is part of ongoing discussion of Accessibility and Disability Awareness leading up to the International Day of Disabled Persons on December 3 and the hopeful introduction of a Disability Parade in 2021. If this is a topic you are interested in or have thoughtful story ideas, please reach out to joeyphoenix@creativecollectivema.com


by Joey Phoenix

This month, North Shore-based Northeast Arc is opening their brand new 26,000 sq. ft. Center for Linking Lives at Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers. The goal of the center is to, first, serve as a vibrant gathering place where individuals with disabilities can reach their full potential; and second, as a center that provides resources enabling these individuals to live alongside their peers as autonomously as possible. 

One of the perks of this LIberty Tree Mall site is its accessibility. Parking and access to public transportation has become a significant issue in downtown districts on the North Shore over the past few years, and finding a space that would be able to accommodate the influx of people, either by car or by public transportation, was a challenge easily solved by hosting the space at the mall. 

Rendering of the Center for Linking Lives

“A lot of the folks that we support don’t have a license and are dependent on public transportation, and many North Shore bus routes end up at the mall,” said Tim Brown, director of innovation and strategy for Northeast Arc. “So by relocating our services to the mall, we are better equipped to serve the families and individuals we support.” 

COVID forces a slight pivot, but mission stays the same

Introducing the new center has been a much more slow-moving process this year for Northeast Arc due to the economic impact of COVID and the health and safety impact on the disability community as well. 

The organization is currently seeking a $3M in support for the design, construction, and completion of the project. Once the goal is met, the programs and services at the new center will be self-sustaining.

“We had to pivot early in the spring to do some significant fundraising for PPE,” said Brown. “[For the center] we’ve been rolling out information slowly and purposefully and we’ll be able to do so even more so once we’ve officially moved in this month.” 

Meeting the need for inclusivity 

People with disabilities have been one of the most impacted communities this year. Already an incredibly isolated community, those with disabilities are frequently cut off from society because most of it isn’t accessible, and this year’s challenges have only served to exacerbate an already difficult situation. 

Historically, one of the main causes for the isolation of this group is that many able bodied people just aren’t aware of the scope of the community. That reality, coupled with the stigma and stereotyping around disabilities in the United States, is a recipe for making an already unrepresented population even more invisible.

Founded in 1954 by families of children with developmental disabilities, Northeast Arc has made a concerted effort to stamp out the stigma and stereotyping around the communities they represent and continues to seek out opportunities for individuals with diverse abilities to be not just included in society, but integrated into its fabric as well. 

“It’s a person to person connection, seeing someone working downtown can impact how we think of them,” said Brown. “Interacting with this community on a daily basis allows for empathy and understanding.” 

Part Disability Resource Center, Part Retail Space

Northeast Arc has played a significant role in revitalizing underused spaces in the past few years by bringing both an influx of foot traffic and providing jobs for employees who have historically had a hard time finding meaningful employment. Their recent projects in downtown Peabody, Peabody’s Black Box and Breaking Grounds Café, have been an immense boon to the economy of Peabody. It’s no surprise that the Liberty Tree Mall became Northeast Arc’s next revitalization target. 

Click here to apply.

In addition to the disability resource center and gathering space being a reason to come to the mall itself, Northeast Arc will also be hosting a retail space on site. The store will be called parcels and will sell products made exclusively by those with disabilities. There will be an assortment of handmade and professional grade items including jewelry, greeting cards, candles, woodwork, metalwork, and specialty design. 

“It’s going to be an eclectic store,” said Brown, “Everyone has that one store that you go to if you need to buy something for a gift or a party, but you just don’t know what to get. This is going to be that store.” 

Not only will the store be supplied by those with disabilities or autism, but it will also create jobs for those individuals who may not otherwise have had entry level retail opportunities. 

The Center for Linking Lives has plans to open this month. If you are interested in supporting the project, Northeast Arc asks that you contact Craig Welton, Chief Development Officer, at cwelton@ne-arc.org or 978-624-2487. 

Find out more about the center by going to https://ne-arc.org/linkinglives/ or following Northeast Arc on Facebook.


Joey Phoenix (they/them) is the Managing Editor of Creative North Shore and the Digital Content Manager for North Shore Pride. Please send comments, questions, pictures of deep-sea creatures to joeyphoenix@creativecollectivema.com


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