VANCOUVER — When Bobbi Bjork thinks about a perfect day, the first thing that comes to mind is “the biggest cup of coffee.”
“And,” she adds, “I have a comfortable chair in my bedroom. I can sit Indian style in it with my coffee. And breathe. Just breathe.”
Bjork needs those moments.
She has just begun a new job, is in school, and is single parent of two kids — an adult son with special needs, and a 16-year-old daughter.
“I had a very challenged upbringing,” says Bjork, “and there’s a fuel inside that comes from difficulty. I tell my kids, ‘You can do things that are hard.’ And I have to tell myself that, too.”
“My son,” she says, “is 23, and has a severe communications disorder. So advocacy has always been really important to me. I have a background in business ownership and sales. But I got honest with myself about what kind of work resonates with my heart. And here I am.”
Here is The Arc of Southwest Washington, where Bjork is the new director of development. The Arc provides services and programs for developmentally and intellectually disabled people in the community including parent support groups, play groups, and various other programs.
The Arc has struggled in recent years, most recently when Value Village closed last November. The Arc had received income from the sales of its donation items to Value Village. The loss of that income left a significant hole, Bjork says, which she is working to replace.
Bjork says her first goal at The Arc is to organize volunteers to plant flowers, mow, paint, and give the facility some TLC. She’s also reconnecting with the community — working social media and building relationships.
“I like to meet with people that have had experience here at The Arc of Southwest Washington,” she says, “good and even not-so-good. I want to use feedback to improve what we do here, so we can serve to the best of our ability.”
She’s also working on learning The Arc inside out. As part of this she’s looking forward to completing training as a resource guide and then serving in that capacity for a while part-time.
The Arc’s resource guides support clients as they participate in the community. A resource guide might accompany a client to Luepke Center to participate in games, go shopping with a client, help a client learn how to ride C-Van, or shadow a client just beginning a volunteer program. Resource guides also support clients at home: helping them with meds, hygiene, safety, and daily activities.
In addition to working full-time at The Arc, Bjork is also in class at Clark College at 7 a.m. each morning as well as two nights a week. And she has two kids at home.
Her son’s communications disorder makes it difficult for him to process language, both written and verbal, and to express himself. An evaluation when he was in Kindergarten identified the communications disorder, and also identified him, in the language of the time, as mentally retarded. But, Bjork says, she kept seeing evidence that the second label didn’t fit. A second, non-verbal, IQ test administered in sixth grade backed her up. But because of his difficulty with language processing, he reads at a second-grade level.
Bjork says he’s not able to live independently yet, but that’s their goal.
“He has come so far,” she says. But when people have profound disabilities, “there’s a gap between them and other people. And it’s a very isolating thing.”
Bjork and her son enjoy running obstacle course races together. She says they ran in the Insane Inflatable 5K last fall at Portland International Raceway.
“They had stories-high blow-up obstacles,’’ Bjork said. “It was a sunny fall day. There were elderly people, and people with little kids. And we were bouncing and laughing.”
Her daughter, 16, attends Heritage High School. They spent a recent Saturday together wandering around downtown Camas.
“We stuck our heads in the Camas Hotel, and there are a bunch of little shops,” she said.
But today she’s back at work, looking for new ways to connect with the community.
“My vision,” she says, “is to see The Arc thrive again. I hope to create a ripple effect of so much good for those we serve. But we can’t do this without the arms of the community around us.”
To learn more about The Arc of Southwest Washington, or for information on volunteering or making a donation, visit www.arcswwa.org.