Virginia is 50th out of 51 states in the level of funding dedicated to the disabled. Kathy May, whose 14-year-old son has a disability, always keeps that statistic in mind. As the lead advocate for The Arc of Northern Virginia, May's goal is to gather support, so that the disabled have the right to a life on their own.
"I am really committed to seeing these people have rights to participate in their communities like everyone else," May said.
Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield) recognized commitment. For that reason, she bestowed the title of "Lady Fairfax" on May.
"You look for people that serve the community," said McConnell, about her decision. "She's been so active in human services."
With the Virginia General Assembly in session bartering over the state budget, May wants to hold those accountable for a program that directly affects the disabled.
"Historically, on a state level, nothing was happening for many years," May said. "Virginia is terrible. We're ranked 50th among 51. Fairfax County has been a little more progressive, but even that's on the chopping block now."
May's efforts have not been ignored. Elected officials such as Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd), Sen. Ken Cuccinelli (R-37th), Sen. Dick Saslaw (D-35th) and Del. Jim Dillard (R-41st) were behind her efforts. However, the rest of the state hasn't been as receptive, May said.
"They understand the need, but others are not so understanding," she said. "It's all about taxes for some people."
MAY LIVES along Popes Head Road in Fairfax. When talk starts about straightening Popes Head and the millions of dollars it would take to do that, May sees a better use for the money.
"I want my son to get service, rather than straighten my road," she said. "Somebody has to make the tough decisions."
Nancy Mercer, executive director at The Arc, sees May's nomination as a step in the right direction. Any publicity for the group's cause is positive, including having Lady Fairfax behind The Arc's efforts.
"We're fighting for civil rights," Mercer said. "I need any royalty we can get to help with this cause."
Cindy Daniel is an active member of The Arc as well.
"We're a good, passionate group. In this field, you've got to be," Daniel said.
THE ARC is a group whose vision is of a world in which people of all abilities participate fully in all aspects of life. The group is located in Falls Church and follows the belief that everyone should live comfortably and safely in the community, feel productive and work in a meaningful job, grow intellectually, enjoy a stable family environment and plan for a secure future, according to The Arc's literature.
May's son Sam started in Fairfax County Public School's special education program at age 2 and now attends Liberty Middle School in Clifton. May said the program at Liberty was great, and next year, when he attends Centreville High School, May expects positive results as well.
"We have been incredibly lucky," she said. "It's dependent on the individual school."
After Sam graduates, May hopes that he will continue with a productive life.
"When he turns 22, he's still going to need support," she said. "At 22, I don't want him to drop off the face of the Earth. He has a right to be independent of us."
McConnell said that it's better for the county to adopt a plan for adults with mentally disability before it reaches a crisis situation, as it does when parents can no longer care for their adult children.
"With an aging population, you see it more and more," McConnell said.
At The Arc, May continues to strive for an independent life for Sam and others in similar situations.
"It's not just a job," May said. "It's a passion."
In addition to her Lady Fairfax honor, May was selected as 2004 Virginia Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association for Social Workers. She was honored at a luncheon in Roanoke on March 6. May was nominated for this honor by Nan Mortimer, a social worker with Fairfax County Public Schools.