Tucked away discreetly on Leesburg’s north side, in the haunting shadow of Paxton Manor, is an oasis of encouragement, empowerment and potential fulfillment.
Arc of Loudoun at Paxton Campus operates a handful of programs aimed at helping people with behavioral or intellectual disabilities reach the highest levels they can achieve in terms of independence and inclusion.
“We’re actually very unique in the country,” said Denise Daffron, chief development officer for Arc of Loudoun. “We have a 17-acre campus here and this whole campus is dedicated to helping children with special needs and their families. That is completely what we do.”
Founded in 1967, the Arc of Loudoun in one of more than 700 affiliates of The Arc of the United States. A community-based non-profit agency, Arc of Loudoun works for and with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities throughout their lifetimes. The program serves all ages and all spectrums of disabilities, including autism, ASD, Down Syndrome, Fragile X, intellectual disabilities, and various other developmental disabilities.
In 2009, Arc of Loudoun moved to its current campus, which includes 10 buildings and the “Carlheim” mansion that was built by Charles and Rachel Paxton in 1872. When Mrs. Paxton died in 1921, she donated the property for the benefit of needy children and established a trust to operate it in the name of her daughter, Margaret.
The mansion and original outbuildings were named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. From Mrs. Paxton’s death until the early 1950s, the residence was used as a convalescent home known as the Paxton Home for Children, where children recovering from illness or injury would stay during the summer months. From 1954 until 1980, it served as an orphanage and from 1980 until 2004 it housed a child-care center. The property was quiet from 2004 until 2009, when Arc of Loudoun moved in.
The mansion now sees little use, except for fund-raising haunted house experiences the programs uses as fund-raisers around Valentine’s Day and Halloween.
ALLY – A LIFE LIKE YOURS
One of five programs in Loudoun County, this programs provides advocacy services to people with disabilities and their families. It goal is to help it clients achieve the maximum level of equitable participation as their non-disabled peers in all aspects of community life, including education, home, jobs and health care
“We’re trying to bring normalcy into the lives of families that have children with disabilities,” Daffron said. “We help with advocacy and helping connect our clients and people need help with the resources in the community.
“ALLY actually provides free services to residents of Loudoun County. In that capacity is where we are very similar to all the other Arcs around the country. Our other programs are what makes us unique.”
Aurora School provides one-on-one teaching and behavioral therapy for children with severe disabilities that need assistance beyond what their regular school district can provide.
“The Aurora school is a very unique school to where it serves children who are not able to thrive in the public school system,” Daffron said. “We are a private placement. We have eight school systems that send their students here.”
Daffron said all of its staff members have advanced training in Applied Behavioral Analysis. They use positive reinforcement to encourage and teach appropriate behavior, and provide feedback on specific behavior issues.
“They are all ABA therapists, not special education teachers,” she said. “Primarily, all of our students have autism and they are on the severe side of the autism disorder spectrum. Many of them also have other disabilities as well. they may have physical disabilities as well but the majority of them have autism on the more severe side of things.”
The goal is to curb or eliminate inappropriate behavior outbursts and teach basic tasks and life skills to enable each student to reach their maximum potential and level of independence. To that end, the kitchen is full of labels and tags, such as “Plates” and “Spoons” along with a picture of the item described.
“It’s about caring for a student and trying to get that student to maximize their potential based on what their skills are,” Daffron said. “This includes life skills, vocational skills, occupational skills – just trying to learn how to wash clothes is, for some of our students, a big issue.
“We have students that range from 6 years old up to 22 years old, because when you have special needs you can be enrolled in the public school system until the age of 22. We’re doing everything we can to get these students to launch after school, so they can be successful and live as independently as possible in life after school.”
Amy Metaxa is the new director of Aurora School, and she said she is already impressed with the level of expertise she sees in her staff.
“I love the individual attention to each student’s needs,” Metaxa said. “I have been spending time going to each individual classroom and every staff member has been able to answer for me specific questions about each of their students. I see the pride on their faces when they are able to tell me about how far their student has come.”
Paul Bellitto, an applied behavior analyst, said he thrives on the day-to-day challenges at Aurora School.
“I find it very rewarding here,” he said. “I’ve worked in a public school system, but here with the smaller teacher-student ratio I feel like I am having more of an impact here.”
AURORA BEHAVIOR CLINIC
The ABC Clinic targets students who may not need full-time care but need extra help in certain areas in addition to or in preparation for school enrollment. Staff members use the same ABA principles as Aurora School staff for children with autism, behavior challenges, language and communication delays and other related disabilities.
“We are currently focusing on younger, preschool-age children, but it is open for children of any age who need ABA therapy,” Daffron said.
Their specialized curriculum is focused on improving a child’s verbal behavior, communication skills, social skills, and academic skills.
ABC clinic also offers preschool classroom push-in and social skills groups for school-age children.
The staff members also provide training in behavior therapy concepts for parents and caregivers of children with autism or other disabilities.
OPEN DOOR LEARNING CENTER PRESCHOOL
Focused on the goal of inclusiveness and normalcy for all children, ODLC is an intentionally inclusive preschool for ages 2 through 7 dedicated to serving students with and without learning and behavior challenges.
The preschool utilizes a low student-to-teacher ratio – usually 6-1 or lower – to give individualized training and even will students who are not toilet trained.
Students without disabilities learn to be more excepting of children with different capabilities and students with mild to moderate challenges can often be prepared to enter the school system in a regular kindergarten classroom setting.
ABILITY FITNESS CENTER
A specially trained staff and specialized equipment provide access to exercise and therapy opportunities for people with spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, stroke victims or people with Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, cerebral palsy, balance disorders, developmental disabilities and other neurological conditions.
Ability Fitness Center will soon be moving into a larger building on the campus, enabling the program to be more available to the general public.
Arc of Loudoun gets some public funding, mainly from school systems who send students to Aurora School.
“Everything else that we have here is a non-profit,” Daffron said. “We are a full-on non-profit. That’s why we have the other fund-raisers, like My Bloody Valentine, Shoktober and our annual gala.”
To find out more about Arc of Loudoun programs or to donate, visit paxtoncampus.org.