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Mary Derby and her husband, William


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"Hope" Springs Eternal
Arc Founder to be Honored at House Naming Oct. 23rd

Since the birth of her daughter Margaret almost 50 years ago, Mary Derby has dedicated her life on behalf of persons with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. “The biggest challenge has been to change society’s attitudes – not through sympathy, but with hope for the future,” she says.


“Hope,” which also happens to be Mrs. Derby’s maiden name, has been a major premise throughout the Geneseo resident’s life. And hope will be the theme once again this Saturday, October 23rd, when Mrs. Derby is honored by The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming at a ranch-style home located at 2825 Retsof Avenue in the quiet hamlet of Retsof, NY. The residence, which is home to six individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, will be christened “The Hope IRA” in honor of Mrs. Derby’s contributions to The Arc. The ceremony begins at 11:00 a.m., and is open to the public.


An IRA, which stands for Individualized Residential Alternative, is a specialized group home designed to serve individuals who are able to live on their own with the aid and support of trained staff. The Hope IRA, which opened its doors one year ago, is one of 14 community IRAs operated by The Arc.


“I look around, and I am amazed at the expansion of The Arc,” Mrs. Derby says, thinking back on the early days of the agency. She explains that the roots of the agency consisted of just a handful of dedicated families – mostly parents of preschool children – when she became involved in the early 1960s.


“Margaret was born blind, and it was determined that she was profoundly disabled,” Mrs. Derby explains. “I was desperate to know what to do. My neighbor told me about a group of parents that had begun to meet, and I went with her to my first meeting. I realized right away that there were people who understood how I felt, and I sensed the potential for friendship. I began helping them, which, in turn, helped me.”


As the parents banded together, they learned about legislation and the workings of county government. Their work resulted in the establishment of a community services board, and then a preschool class that was suited to the needs of developmentally disabled children.


The Arc expanded into adult services under Mrs. Derby’s guidance. She was board president in 1974, when The Arc’s vocational rehabilitation program known as Hilltop Industries was established in a vacant laundry building on Murray Hill in Mt. Morris, and in 1977, when its first residential home opened on Center Street in Geneseo, just a block from Mrs. Derby’s family home.


“The Arc has been a lifesaver for me,” Mrs. Derby says. “As it turned out, Margaret was never able to take advantage of the programs that we set up, but it was a learning experience for me to be able to work on those programs. I put all of my efforts into making life better for the handicapped in this county.”


In subsequent years, Mrs. Derby and her husband, William, would play increasingly critical roles advocating for people with disabilities at the local, state, and national levels. Today, they continue to strive for improvements in the lives of people with disabilities, including the needs of an aging population.


“It appears to me that one of the present challenges for The Arc would be to take on more of the medically frail, as state services do not appear to be growing, and that goes for the behaviorally challenged as well,” Mrs. Derby says. “I also think that a special area that needs attention is day habilitation for senior citizens. The Arc can be creative about this growing population. They want to retire!”


Rose Piraino, who is 66-years-old and lives at 2825 Retsof Avenue, expresses appreciation for Mrs. Derby’s efforts. A resident of the IRA since it opened in November 2009, Ms. Piraino says that she likes the ranch-style house because it’s easy to get around without the burden of navigating stairs.


And how does she feel about the new name?


“I love it. I think it’s wonderful,” Ms. Piraino says. “It’s going to give us a lot of hope for the future.”