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Changing buying habits and the ease of online shopping are reshaping malls across America. This transition is driving mall owners and tenants to reimagine these spaces, from strictly retail destinations to vibrant community centers.

This evolution is now taking place at the Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers—led by Northeast Arc, which is introducing an innovative new concept that will be a transformational and replicable model for the future of malls.

Believing that full inclusion can only be attained through partnerships and collaboration, Northeast Arc redeveloped 26,000 square feet of space at the Liberty Tree Mall to create a welcoming environment where individuals with disabilities can reach their full potential.

“Since 1954 the Northeast Arc has been creating and implementing dynamic programs and services to support people with disabilities and their families,” says Jo Ann Simons, president and CEO of Northeast Arc. “The creation of the Center for Linking Lives at the Liberty Tree Mall is another bold step in helping individuals with disabilities become full participants in their communities. Access to stores, restaurants, services, and potential jobs in the mall will increase opportunities for both real independence and inclusion.”

In addition to offering enhanced opportunities for individuals served by Northeast Arc, the Center for Linking Lives will make it easier for people with disabilities and their family members to access the range of services offered by the agency.

Liberty Tree Mall shoppers can also visit parcels, a retail store offering products created exclusively by people with disabilities from all over the world. Philanthropist Steven P. Rosenthal of Marblehead, chairman of West Shore LLC, is a longtime supporter of Northeast Arc and was instrumental in making parcels a reality.

Rosenthal, who previously donated $1 million to Northeast Arc to create the Changing Lives Fund, provided an additional gift, which enabled the agency to purchase the initial inventory for the store. “Highlighting these entrepreneurs and producers is an important way to promote inclusion for individuals with disabilities,” says Rosenthal. “I’m proud to once again support another positive disruptive change to how disability services are offered through Northeast Arc.”

 “The Center for Linking Lives promotes community redevelopment and environmental sustainability while serving as a national model for other organizations seeking to enhance inclusion for people with disabilities in underutilized community settings,” says Tim Brown, director of innovation and strategy at Northeast Arc.

“Rather than purchasing a separate building and perpetuating the physical separation of people with disabilities, our approach seeks to transform an otherwise unused former retail space into a vibrant center that meets the needs of the individuals we serve within an existing community hub.” Due to COVID-19 restrictions the Center will limit the number of people initially using the space while social distancing and other safety precautions are maintained.

For individuals and families served by Northeast Arc, the new space represents the opportunity for new experiences—and a more convenient model for service delivery.

Sam Neisterowich of Danvers, a participant in the Northeast Arc’s Skills Training Exploration Program, is employed by Big Y supermarkets and the AMC movie theater at Liberty Tree Mall.  “I’m excited for the Center for Linking Lives because it has a lot more space and it is close to my job at the movie theater,” he says.

The Moline Family of North Reading has relied on Northeast Arc’s Autism Support Center (ASC) since their son Bob was diagnosed in 2005. “The Arc has helped educate us about Autism, advocacy, the ins and outs of educational services, and transition to adult services,” says Kathleen Moline, Bob’s mother and co-chair of the Autism Support Center’s advisory board.  “We are excited that ASC is moving to new space at the Liberty Tree Mall and will be located in the heart of the community and can’t wait to see what new opportunities this space will create for all the families they serve.”

Liberty Tree Mall’s access to public transportation and central location will increase the Northeast Arc’s capacity to better serve individuals and families from a wider geographic area and be a major benefit for staff that relies on public transportation. Since nearly all of the people with disabilities served through these programs do not drive, having access to public transportation is critical.

“Malls are important hubs for community gathering, and the Center for Linking Lives is an exciting opportunity to bring individuals with disabilities into these spaces,” says Mike Connell, Liberty Tree Mall manager. “We’re thrilled to partner with Northeast Arc to help promote an inclusive environment, and we’re hopeful that the success of this project at the Liberty Tree Mall can be replicated at properties across the country.”

The Center for Linking Lives is made possible by gifts through Northeast Arc’s Campaign for Linking Lives, which has already raised more than $1 million toward its $3 million fundraising goal. The campaign is being co-chaired by Swampscott resident Ralph James, executive director of External Relations at Harvard Business School and Salem resident Darcy Immerman, chair of Northeast Arc board of directors.

As the parent of an adult daughter with a disability, James knows the impact that a place like the Center for Linking Lives can have. “It’s critical that young people get the education they deserve and, once formal education ends, they have a job that provides structure and positive feedback,” James says. “The Center for Linking Lives addresses inclusion. It forms a community that will benefit the people it serves and everyone around them. We are creating a playbook that can be used across the country and around the world.”

“By introducing the general public to the array of services provided by Northeast Arc, the Center for Linking Lives will demonstrate first-hand what people with disabilities can achieve if given the opportunity to succeed,” adds Simons. “I’m extremely proud of this Center and the staff that made this happen, as it is another example of how the Northeast Arc is changing lives every day.”

Shop at parcels

Northeast Arc has been creating businesses staffed by people with disabilities for decades, including Heritage Caning Company, Heritage Shredding, Shine Jewelry, and serving delicious food and beverages at its Breaking Ground Cafe in Peabody.

As part of its move to the Liberty Tree Mall, Northeast Arc has opened parcels, a retail store offering products created exclusively by people with disabilities from all over the world. Not only will parcels provide opportunities for shoppers to purchase unique items, the store showcases these products and provides employment training for people in Northeast Arc’s workforce development program.

Some of the items parcels will sell include:
Soaps, Scrubs & Salts, Cards and Candles, Granola, Popcorn, Cookies, Candies, and Jams, Jewelry, Dog Treats, Leather Goods and Wooden Items, Artwork and Photography

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