Q&A with Tania Anderson

By Mary Beth Roach

Nonprofit’s goal is to help people with disabilities thrive and succeed in the community, says ARISE’s chief executive officer

Q: Can you give our readers an overview of ARISE’s mission?

A: ARISE is an independent living center and that’s a very special designation. We’re the only independent living center for the counties of Onondaga, Madison, Oswego, Cayuga and Seneca. What that basically means is that we serve people of any age and any disability, and all of our services are based in the community and centered on making sure that we do everything we can so that people can thrive and succeed. We endorse the independent living philosophy, which means that the person with the disability is in charge. They express their goals, their dreams and our job is to get the services and supports to achieve those goals.

Q: How many employees and clients does ARISE have and how big is your budget?

A: Our budget is about $23 million. Staff full-time varies, but we’re around 700 people, and if you include information and referrals in our client numbers, we serve about 5,000 people a year.

Q: What are some of the programs and initiatives that ARISE offers its client base?

A: One of our largest programs is our mental health clinic and that involves our main clinic at 635 James St., as well as a number of satellite clinics in Fulton, in many of the Syracuse city schools, in other area school districts in Onondaga and Oswego counties.

Another really important program involves our services for people with developmental disabilities. Those programs are all based in the community and are geared around helping folks with a developmental disability to learn more independent skills or support them in an employment setting. We’re well known for our advocacy, and that’s part of the independent living better. We have education advocates that help families and students navigate the complex special ed system. We also advocate for individuals in terms of them accessing supports and services for which they might be entitled from the government, and we do systems advocacy, or we might advocate for accessibility in a public building so that everyone can use it, advocate for better bus service, which would benefit not just people with disabilities, but the broader community.

We have a whole category of programs that we call our gateway programs, which many people know ARISE for. That includes ARISE at the Farm, ARISE and Ski, our adaptive design program, our ramp program. They act as a gateway to introduce folks to all of the support that ARISE has to offer.

Q: Have you, in the past couple of years, been able to introduce any new programs or projects or enhance what you already have?

A: We’re always bringing new projects online. Most recently, we expanded our summer programming at ARISE at the Farm from four weeks to the full summer of nine weeks.  We increased the number of schools we were in over the last several years. So that has been an expansion that’s been organic in terms of our business, but it’s related to COVID-19 in that officials are recognizing the increased need for mental health services in the community and in the schools, in particular. There has been specific funding to support expansion of our mental health services in the schools. That’s true not just of ARISE, but of other providers that are in the schools.

Q: Why has there been that need?

A: ARISE was one of the pioneers in terms of accepting assignments in the schools and this has been a successful model that has increased. COVID-19 and the stress that kids in particular were under because of COVID-19, just made it more apparent that it makes a lot of sense to have a trained mental health professional in the school setting because that’s where the kids are. It’s easier for them to access the services. It removes barriers, like transportation, because the clinician can literally just walk down the hall, connect with their client and bring them to their counseling space and observe them in settings, like the cafeteria. It allows for better scheduling for the kids so that they don’t lose time in school and it’s a more natural setting.

Q: In the future, what would you like to see ARISE implement or take on?

A: ARISE has always been focused on delivering the highest quality service possible and really advancing the independent living philosophy. I think we’ve been largely successful because more and more our society is recognizing the value that people with disabilities bring to our community, that they’re not a group that is “other.” It is a group with diverse talents and contributions that should be fully included in our society, whether it’s physical access or employment or education, or whatever the facet might be. I think we will continue to build on that success into the future. I’m really interested in the ways that ARISE is collaborating with other human service agencies in our community because working together we are stronger and we will we delivering better service to the whole community. There’s a lot of inter-related need in our society and complex need in our society, and ARISE offers a broad array of services, but we don’t offer everything. We’d like to be able to partner as much as possible so that we fill gaps and no one falls through the cracks.

Q: Are there are areas in our community where you’d like to see more inclusion?

A: I think what comes to mind first is accessible housing. We have staff that help locate accessible housing for people that connect with us. In our country, in general, there’s a housing shortage. When you talk about accessible housing, that’s a need that’s even more critical, not just people with disabilities, but people who want to age in place so that’s a really critical need in our community.

Q: What is your most favorite part of the job?

A: My most favorite part of the job is that I get to see first-hand the positive impact of ARISE. My daughter has a disability, and she has received services from ARISE for almost her entire life and I can attest, first-hand, about the high quality and the impact it has had on her life. And that’s just multiplied across thousands of lives.