Tim Cooper, new director of the Arc of Calhoun and Cleburne Counties, grew up around people with special needs.
“My mom worked at the AIDB, so I’d go there every afternoon after middle school or elementary school,” Cooper recalled, talking about the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind in Talladega. “I had all kinds of friends at the Helen Keller School and I volunteered as I grew up.”
Cooper, now 54, learned sign language and played football and basketball and a dozen other sports with the kids at the institute. He worked with the Arc of Tuscaloosa after he graduated from Jacksonville State University with a major in physical education and recreation. Later he became a teacher at Coldwater Elementary, and helped the local Arc establish Alabama’s first Special Olympics stand-up paddleboarding team, which went to the national Special Olympics in Seattle last year. Even though he has work to do at a desk now, he’s still going to take the team to South Carolina for a tournament in two weeks.
In other words, he’s probably right for the job.
“You’ve got to have a passion for it,” Cooper said, sitting at his desk in Arc’s building on Noble Street in Anniston. “If the passion’s not there then this is not what you want. Some people go two or three months and then they’re gone.”
As director, Cooper acts as the face of the organization. He’s the one who approaches local governments to look for sources of funding, and the one who attends events to keep the Arc on the community’s mind.
The Arc — an organization helping teach and train children and adults with developmental disabilities — serves about 1,700 clients, Cooper said, operating on a budget of about $186,000 in 2018. Those clients are tied to Arc through a plethora of programs, ranging from in-school attention for kids and teens to job readiness classes for adults, along with art classes, fishing tournaments and summer camps.
Those numbers don’t necessarily make the Arc of Calhoun and Cleburne a big organization, Cooper said, compared to others in the state. Fortunately, the leaders of large Arc organizations such as those in Tuscaloosa and Montgomery counties are among those Cooper will meet next week, during the Arc of Alabama’s disability conference.
Cooper said meetings like those are where the local Arc can get an idea of what’s facing intellectually and developmentally disabled people in the state, which helps guide budgeting back home.
Pati Tiller, outreach coordinator for the Arc, said she thought Cooper was a good fit for the director position.
“He’s got things that haven’t been tried before, and he knows new people,” Tiller said. “It’s interesting seeing someone who has worked from the sidelines come in and share their ideas.”
Cooper said one of those ideas is to put more focus on work training; right now Arc clients can learn to fill out an application, how to be interviewed and some on-the-job skills. Cooper wants to see more supported employment, a program in which clients who are working receive training to make them better at their jobs.
“We’ll teach skills, applications and how to work,” he said. “We’re working on receiving money to hire a specialist to get into the community and find places to let them work.”
Cooper said anyone interested in helping the Arc, either by donating or getting involved with a program, can visit calhouncleburnearc.org for more information. He’d like to see the Arc expand and have more of an impact in Cleburne County, but that’s something that takes money.
“The proposed budget will probably be bigger this year,” he said, “because we’re going to grow, and growing costs money.”