Image: Illustration with headshot of MVCC alumna Karen Korotzer

Alumna of Merit Karen Korotzer '89

CEO of The Arc dedicated to changing lives through advocacy, education, collaboration

For 30 years, Karen Korotzer ’89 has been advocating for the rights of people with disabilities to ensure they have the lives they want to live. As CEO of nonprofit agency The Arc, Oneida-Lewis, she remains committed to her calling, working tirelessly to strengthen the support services through innovation, education, and community collaboration.

“For many years, people still assumed that individuals with developmental disabilities were in institutions, living a very segregated life. Our mission is to change that,” she says. “It’s important to tell our story in a variety of ways, so people know the lives of those we support are meaningful and important to our community.”

Korotzer’s dedication to the Mohawk Valley and her advocacy for education embody the College’s mission of serving students and our community, earning her the MVCC Alumni of Merit Award for 2020.

Staying nimble in uncertain times Image of Karen Korotzer

The Arc, Oneida-Lewis, supports 1,400 people with disabilities and their families across two counties. Korotzer says it’s important for nonprofits to be nimble in order to continue serving the people who need them most, especially in uncertain times.

“We have to ensure that the decisions we’re making are positive for the people we support, while also managing the situation we have in our environment — whether it be funding cuts or the pandemic.”

Fortunately, The Arc was ahead of the curve with remote technologies when the coronavirus pandemic halted in-person support, enabling the agency to continue services without missing a beat, thanks to federal and state grants to develop a telehealth program, distance learning, and videoconferencing across all its sites, Korotzer says. “We were very, very well-prepared — even before COVID — because we had that technology available.”

Korotzer also took the opportunity to look at the situation from a different perspective. “In the midst of a pandemic or crisis, you certainly pull people together and get through what you need to get through,” she says. “But you also look for opportunities to be more flexible — what can we do differently if things have changed because of COVID or the way we are funded? We have to be ready for anything to ensure continuation of services for the people we support.”

Korotzer was inspired to work in direct care by her great uncle, who was born with cerebral palsy. She chose to major in Human Services at MVCC, which she says prepared her well and helped to shape her future. “Mohawk Valley’s instructors were very experienced in the field, so they brought that reality to our education,” she says. She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in psychology, master of business administration, and master of social work from the University of Albany. She became CEO of The Arc, Oneida-Lewis, in 2011.

“It’s such a great agency. It’s all about making sure you have people with the mission in their heart, and working together with the families and the people we support to really make a change.”

Expanding services, opportunities

Over the past few years, The Arc has expanded its reach and range of services while finding new partners and building new connections for its robust school-to-work program. The Arc currently serves students in every school district in Oneida County, as well as some Lewis County districts and BOCES, Korotzer says. The next step for students is the post-high school CollegeWorks program, a collaboration between The Arc and MVCC that aims to improve employment outcomes for people with developmental disabilities. Program participants get the experience of attending college while developing marketable skills, and gain work experience through internships at local businesses. The Arc also has an Employment Solutions Team to help graduates find jobs, and is working to expand its Progress Industries program, which employs individuals in packaging and assembling products for local businesses, such as Matt’s Brewery.

“These community partnerships and programs have opened a lot of doors for the people we serve,” Korotzer says. “They’ve provided new opportunities for these individuals to find jobs, keep jobs, and to have those relationships where they work — to be able to have the lives that everyone else does.”

Korotzer, who considers herself a lifelong student, found herself back on MVCC’s campus when she enrolled in Leadership Mohawk Valley’s Class of 2019 — the first class housed under the College’s Center for Leadership Excellence.

“I loved it,” she says. “It was such an eye-opening experience to see the different businesses, to hear the different speakers, to learn from my peers in the class. And of course, I was thrilled that we were the first class to go through LMV at MVCC. It really does all come full circle — I was able to go to MVCC and have a wonderful experience as a student. And now, to be able to continue this relationship with MVCC in our community is just incredibly amazing.”