THE ARC’S NEW CHIEF SEES POST AS JOB OF LIFETIME – LAUREN MULLIS’ FAMILY HAS HISTORY OF HELPING THOSE WITH DISABILITIES
Charlotte Observer, The (NC)
August 16, 2006
: THREEMECKLENBURG NEIGHBORS
MELINDA JOHNSTON, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
: MECKLENBURG NEIGHBORS
Some people search a lifetime for their calling. Twenty-six-year-old Lauren Mullis said she’s lucky to have already found hers.
Mullis is the new executive director of the Arc of Mecklenburg County Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps folks with developmental disabilities, and their families, experience more meaningful and satisfying lives.
She took the role with the Arc, which is part of the nationwide organization that is more than 50 years old, July 1. The organization serves folks with developmental disabilities resulting from Down syndrome, Williams syndrome, mental retardation and other problems.
Mullis said the Arc of Mecklenburg, and working on behalf of folks with disabilities, is a family affair.
“My aunt, Becky Austin, has autism and mental retardation. After she was born, my grandfather, Don Austin, wanted to do whatever he could to make things better for his child. He got involved with the Arc in the early 1960s and was the president of the board in 1979,” Mullis said.
“He and my Aunt Becky also helped start Metro School. I’ve got a picture of them turning the first shovel of dirt at Metro’s groundbreaking.”
Thanks to her aunt, Mullis has always had a special place in her heart for folks with disabilities.
“In middle and high schools I helped in the EC (exceptional children) classes. I’ve always been comfortable being around people who others see as different. I just see them as folks that may need a little extra help,” Mullis said.
She majored in sociology at Appalachian State University, but wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do after graduation. Her senior year, at the suggestion of her grandfather, she did a summer internship at the Arc.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do as a career, but during that six-week internship, I fit in perfectly,” Mullis said. “I loved being around people that had a different outlook on life. It was an eye-opening experience and I thought, `Wow, I’ve just figured out what I want to do with my life.’ ”
After graduation, she moved to Raleigh and sent resumes to every nonprofit she could find. She ended up as a teller at a credit union – definitely not what she had in mind. The day after Christmas 2003, the previous Arc director called to tell her the position of advocacy coordinator was open. She packed up and moved back home.
When the director resigned in November of 2005, Mullis became acting director. Now her title is official, and she’s especially grateful to call Charlotte home.
“Growing up here I just thought I needed to live somewhere else, but now I really appreciate Charlotte. Moving back here is one of the best decisions I ever made. It’s a growing city and it’s really neat to be a part of that growth,” Mullis said.
The Arc is located at 2824 N. Davidson St. in NoDa, in a fast-changing area and, coincidentally, across from the house where Mullis’ grandfather was born.
It helps families make sure their kids get the services they need and their rights are upheld.
“That’s a big job. In Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools alone, there are 13,000 students with IEPs (individualized education plans). It’s estimated that there are over 155,000 folks in North Carolina with developmental disabilities,” Mullis said. “It’s especially hard right now because all across the state, services are very fragmented.”
Mullis said the Arc helps by telling folks what kinds of services are available and where they can find those services. It offers classes and workshops for families as well as social and service opportunities for those who have a developmental disability.
The Arc depends on volunteers, and also partners with other agencies, Mullis said.
“We have an awesome staff and we work together really well, but we are too small and the work is too great to do it alone,” she said. “The partnerships we already have and those we have yet to develop are what it’s going to take to help us meet our goal of being the premiere advocacy organization for those with developmental disabilities in Mecklenburg County.”
Hometown: Born Sept. 1, 1979, in Matthews.
Education: Matthews Elementary, Randolph Middle, Providence High, bachelor’s in sociology with a concentration in family development from Appalachian State University.
Family: Father, Tom; mother, Donna; 16-year-old sister, Lindsey; and boyfriend, Stephen Borchert.
Favorite TV show: “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Favorite restaurant: Mac’s on South Boulevard.
Favorite radio station: WEND-FM (106.5).
Favorite sport: Hockey. Mullis, her dad, and sister haven’t missed a home Checkers game in ages.
Something folks may not know about her: She played on the Charlotte Chubby Ballers (with a group from the Checkers front office) softball team this spring.
Pet peeve: Using slang for mental retardation, or the “R-word,” to put someone down. “Any chance I get, I tell people that it’s inappropriate and hurtful to use that word as slang. It hurts my heart when I hear it, and I know it hurts all the people who have a friend or family member with a disability when they hear that derogatory term.”
About Arc of Mecklenburg County
The Arc depends on volunteers for a number of tasks, including: clerical work; Operation Santa Claus shoppers, wrappers, and gift delivery; public speakers to talk about the Arc; Aktion Club advisers; and Habitat for Humanity. (The organization hopes to build five homes in the next five years for adults with developmental disabilities.) To volunteer, call 704-332-4535.