DANVERS – Marcy Yellin can’t wait to take her son, Jacob, to the Liberty Tree Mall.
It’s not because she wants to take him Hanukkah shopping, so much as it’s where Jacob, 35, who has cognitive delay, will be attending programs through Danvers-based Northeast Arc, which provides services to those with developmental or intellectual disabilities on the North Shore and in Greater Boston.
In October, many of Northeast Arc’s programs were relocated to the Center for Linking Lives, situated in 26,000 square feet inside the mall. Because of the pandemic, Jacob has not been attending the Skills Training Exploration Program in person, but he has been participating on Zoom.
“I’m thrilled with the whole thing,” said Yellin, of Swampscott, who has toured the new center. She said her son is “psyched to go back and go to the mall.”
Northeast Arc President and CEO Jo Ann Simons and Marblehead businessman Steve Rosenthal, both members in the North Shore Jewish community, spearheaded the Arc’s relocation to the new center, which features offices and collaborative work spaces painted in bright, primary colors and artwork by clients hanging on the walls. About 150 people will work there once restrictions on social distancing end.
“It’s one thing to have people with disabilities in the community, but it’s a whole different thing to say, as an agency, we’re going to be part of the community, we’re in the community,” said Simons, 67, of Swampscott.
“It’s incredibly innovative and it’s bringing the disability community to the community,” said Rosenthal, 63, a Marblehead philanthropist and member of the Northeast Arc Advisory Board.
The mall offers a place where the Arc’s clients can go to shop, run errands, go to the gym, or find jobs. It offers real-world life skills training. Other perks include plenty of parking, including enough space for the Arc’s 70 vans.
The mall also sits on an MBTA bus route, which is important because many of those with disabilities do not have a license, making access to public transportation key.
The Arc’s autism support center has been relocated to the mall, along with early intervention programs. Other programs in the center include residential and health services, recreation, Special Olympics, supported employment training and placement, a family resource center, a test kitchen, and an assistive technology lending library.
The center expects to serve more than 1,000 people with disabilities each year.
Because one of the requirements to rent space in the mall is to have a retail presence, they came up with a concept called “parcels,” a shop which sells jewelry, pottery, paintings, and caned chairs produced in Peabody.
“The store is all product made by people with disabilities,” said Tim Brown, Northeast Arc’s director of innovation and strategy, “or through businesses owned by people with disabilities around the country.” The store also will be used for employment training.
Rosenthal donated money to stock the store, Simons said.
In addition, Northeast Arc is in the midst of a $3 million capital campaign for the center, having raised about half of that so far.
Rosenthal serves as chairman of West Shore LLC, a Boston-based real estate investment company. His involvement with the Jewish community includes being a member of the board of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and as a past trustee of the Ruderman Family Foundation.
Locally, he has served on the Lappin Foundation’s board and has been involved with Combined Jewish Philanthropies. In 2017, he donated $1 million to Northeast Arc to create the Changing Lives Fund, which innovates ways to serve those with disabilities, including the pitch competition called ArcTank, which awards grants to innovative programs.
In April, he funded a $100,000 emergency challenge matching grant to help the Arc at a time of need due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Rosenthal became involved with the Arc after he struck up a conversation with Simons while both were working out on adjacent elliptical machines at the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore in Marblehead. Unlike many involved in the disability community, Rosenthal does not have a child with developmental challenges.
“Because it’s important to do,” Rosenthal said about his generous support of Northeast Arc. “It is the ultimate tikkun olam. It is the repair of the world,” he said of the innovation he’s trying to spur.
Simons said when her son, Jonathan Derr, who has Down’s syndrome, was born more than four decades ago, she said the Jewish community had been pioneers in supporting the elderly, dealing with refugees, and resettling Jews from Russia. So, she called the Jewish Friends and Family Services and told them her plight.
“And they said: ‘Oh, no, that’s for the government to do,’” Simons said.
“Well, that was 40 years ago,” Simons said, “but I think what we have seen since then is the march of the Jewish community to not only embrace but to lead in inclusion, and we are seeing that, and yet it’s not a Jewish issue, it’s a community issue.”