History of The Arc of Nebraska


  • 1850 – 1950

    • Institutional care began in Beatrice
      • Nebraska Institution for Feeble Minded Youth, Beatrice State Home (now BSDC)
    • Forced sterilization: no consent required
    • Parents were told to send their newborns with disabilities to institutions like BSDC and forget about them.  Still there are many unmarked graves at the sight.
  • 1950 – 1960

    • Greater Omaha Association for Retarded Children (GOARC) founded
    • Nebraska Association for Retarded Children (NebARC) founded
    • Historic leaders like Wolf Wolfensberger of UNMC Munroe Meyer Center (Internationally renowned academic in the disability world) partnered with Bill Wills (Community Organizer and Executive Director of The Arc of Nebraska) and Dr. Frank Menolascinoa (Mover and Shaker) to create this powerful partnership that shows how change can happen if you partner academics with community organizers.
  • 1960 – 1970
    • Lee Terry of KETV Channel 7 Documentary series on Beatrice State Home (Out of the Darkness) This was a pivotal moment where the nation really began to understand how archaic our system was. People with disabilities were chained to a bed, sterilized, forced to endure shock therapy, and so much more trauma.
    • In response then Governor Morrison created the Interagency Committee on Mental Retardation to begin reforming our system with the same thing happening at the national level)
    • The legislature established the Office of Mental Retardation within the Department of Health and passed 14 laws to provide for the creation, funding & coordination of community-based programs throughout the state.
  • 1970 – 1980

    • Eastern Nebraska Community Office of Retardation (ENCOR now known as Duet), was the first regional community services agency in the nation to provide Home and Community Based Services.
    • Pilot Parents Program in Omaha by GOARC - This program helped to train parents to train and support other parents. This was spun off into a national program that is still around in different iterations around the nation. Here in Nebraska, it is now Parent Training and Information or PTI Nebraska
    • Horacek v. Exon lawsuit (Exon being the Governor at the time) The plaintiffs, represented through their parents, brought a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, on behalf of themselves and all other persons similarly situated, alleging that the physical conditions, care, treatment and training provided by the defendants at the Beatrice State Home for the mentally retarded do not meet constitutional standards. Specifically, the Beatrice State Home has deprived them of due process, in that less restrictive community alternatives are available which would provide them adequate care, treatment, education, and training with far fewer restrictions upon personal liberty and the exercise of constitutional rights; that they are being denied equal protection of the law by unreasonable classifications which deny them rights and benefits which others similarly situated have; and that certain practices by the defendants constitute a form of involuntary servitude and cruel and unusual punishment. 
    • Then the People First movement began. While we have always had members with disabilities, it also includes the voices of parents, teachers, providers, and advocates. So we helped to launch an organization purely of people with disabilities, run by people with disabilities, for people with disabilities. That still runs today with minimal support. 
    • Individual Program Plan (IPP) process began. This recognized that each individual had their own needs and required a different setting to properly support them and ensure their access to their least restrictive environment.
    • Then came Public Law 94-142—Education for All Handicapped Children Act (later became IDEA) or Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This began Special Education in our nation, with Nebraska again at the lead.  At this time the Governor and Legislators promised to provide 80% of Special Education Funding from the state.
  • 1970 – 1980

    • Home & community-based waiver services for children with mental retardation & their families approved for Nebraska
  • 2000 – 2010

    • Waiting list grows
    • Conditions at Beatrice State Developmental Center are brought to light. The Department of Justice comes in and forces significant changes. With this, there was a significant move of people to more ethical and cost-efficient community-based services.
    • Changes to services delivery
    • Medicaid Waivers Cut and condensed
  • 1990 – 2000

    • The ARC began quality review teams working to improve the quality of services and ensure that our array of services was adequate. These teams worked to check providers and ensure that there was actual individualization in plans.
    • Governor Nelson’s Blueprint for Action addressed the waiting list… or so it was thought at the time. Unfortunately, we failed to provide continued funding.
    • The Olmstead Case was decided based upon a lawsuit over the ADA determining that each state needed to have an individualized plan to support people with disabilities.  It only took us till 2019 to get our plan.


  • 2010-2020

    • Wait List Grows
    • Service Rates Continue to Lag Behind Inflation
    • 2017 Historic Rate Cuts
    • Nebraska finally created our Olmstead Plan that is still not compliant with the Supreme Court Case Decision but is helpful
    • Expanded Medicaid Buyin Program Opens more opportunities for employment
    • The Arc began a new Campaign to End the Waiting List


  • 2020- Present

    • Significant increases to Wait List Funding to address the 6-10 year Wait List
    • Covid hits stalling many pieces of progress as people with disabilities were and are still more significantly impacted as people with Down Syndrome are 16 times more likely to get and die from Covid.
    • Passage of new Family Support Waiver led by Senator Machaela Cavanaugh, a key Innovation to ensure children with disabilities can access services.
    • Under the leadership of Governor Pillen, historic Special Education Funding comes in LB 583 and LB 385. This finally fulfilled previous Governors promises to provide 80% of Special Education Funding from the State. (up from 42%) 


The Arc of Nebraska’s Executive Directors


David Powell 1975- 1988

Ginger Clubine 1988-1993

Eric Richards – 1993- 1996

Renee Ferdinand 1996- 2004

Deb Weston 2004- 2008

Marla Fischer Lempke 2008- 2014

Mike Chittenden 2014- 2017

Edison McDonald 2017- Present