Our History

The Arc of Oakland County, Inc. is a non-profit membership organization working directly with persons having all levels of intellectual and other related developmental disabilities, and their families. The purpose of The Arc is to provide direct and expert advocacy toward securing the proper services, programs and entitlements for the family member who has special needs. Specifically, assistance is available in the areas of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, special education law advocacy, estate plan counseling, guardianship, community residential options, the monitoring of group homes, respite care, recreational opportunities, as well as information and referral.

The Arc is governed by a fifteen-member volunteer Board of Directors. The Executive Director of The Arc of Oakland County is Dawn Calnen, J.D. who leads a team of 21 dedicated people. The Arc of Oakland County is the largest local chapter in Michigan with over 1,085 members, and is affiliated with both The Arc Michigan and The Arc of the United States.

The history of The Arc formally began in 1967 when a group of separate parent support groups in Oakland County decided to unite and gain strength from numbers. The Arc has flourished over the years within the realm of systems advocacy, that is, offering a “business-like approach” in the direct service of helping individuals and families obtain legal rights, benefits and entitlements. This organization and its members spearheaded the local grass-roots campaign in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s for passage of mandatory special education legislation. The Arc has also been on the “front lines” over the last generation advocating for the closure of all public institutions for persons with developmental disabilities, and the creation in the community of all the necessary residential and mental health support services.

The Arc has also pushed for: reform in SSI and SSDI eligibility standards as many people with disabilities were threatened with benefit cut-offs in the early 1980’s; implementation of the “Family Support Subsidy Act;” Medicaid reform, which led to a “Community Supported Living Arrangements” (“CSLA”) pilot project in Oakland County and Michigan; “Inclusive Education” as an option for all students with special needs; and supported employment instead of segregated vocational programs. Finally, The Arc of Oakland County has served as the “incubator” for many new ideas and now essential independent programs in the area such as: the vocational organization “New Horizons, Inc.,” the fine arts program known as, “F.A.R., Conservatory Inc.,” the Oakland County office for the “Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service,” the Lahser Respite Home for children, and even the “Oakland County Special Olympics.” The Arc conceived, developed its highly acclaimed comprehensive, lifetime advocacy service called the “Forever Plan,” and an outstanding respite program known as “Shared Parenting.”

The Arc serves a wide and diverse group of persons, and all consumers have a developmental disability.


The Arc of Oakland County boasts a number of significant “highlights” over the last decade or so of its organizational lifetime

  • The Arc of Oakland County authors annually a tax guide (now FREE and located for download elsewhere on this website) for persons who support children and /or adults experiencing an intellectual impairment and/or other related developmental disability.  Also, staff prepared and re-wrote the 1995 revision of a guardianship and estate planning booklet, which took both state and national “Communicators Award” honors in 1995. The tax guide won The Arc Michigan’s “Communicators Award” in 1996.
  • Since the summer of 2001, The Arc of Oakland County has served as Fiscal Intermediary for individuals/families enrolled in Self-Determination. The Arc of Oakland County serves over 1,650 consumers. As Fiscal Intermediary, The Arc processes invoices and time sheets and respite vouchers on behalf of each consumer, help them monitor their individual budget, current PCP guidelines, and Medicaid law. The Arc staff works with the consumer, his/her family, and their MORC, Inc. supports coordinator to help them flex their budgeted dollars to further meet their needs while staying within the guidelines of the current PCP and medicaid.