An Interview with Catherine Strode
Effective November 9, Christiano Sosa takes hold of the leadership reins as Executive Director of The Arc of Colorado. He is in the process of completing a statewide tour of the 13 Arc chapters across the state. Christiano brings a strong background to the position in philanthropic and policy leadership roles for nonprofits including: The Denver Foundation, the Northern Colorado AIDS Project, and Mi Casa Resource Center. His professional career experience reflects his commitment and passion to the goal of social justice.
In an interview with Catherine Strode, Christiano says his career experience reflects his commitment and passion to the goal of social justice. He adds that the concepts of inclusion and equity for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities will be a primary undercurrent of all policy and systems change promoted by the Arc of Colorado under his leadership.
What policies regarding the community of individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities will you focus on?
“Inclusion and equity, in all of its forms, needs to be top of mind when we think about any systems or policy change. Families and individuals living with intellectual/developmental disabilities need access to all of the systems that make communities healthy. It’s what they deserve. It will be a central focus of the Arc of Colorado moving forward. It is informed by decades of work in the Arc movement at the national level, as well as the local level. The concepts of equity and inclusion intersect health care, and affect employment, housing, education, mental health. I have worked through many of the challenges in terms of policy and how it intersects in small communities. Part of those challenges is to provide some level setting, move on sound policy and systems change, to ensure that our hard-fought rights are not under assault. My background for the last 12 years was in philanthropy. I was able to direct tens of millions of dollars across the state annually. While philanthropy has a very important role in supporting nonprofits and communities, it’s really the policy and the systems change where I believe the lasting impact is.”
What was the purpose of the statewide tour?
“As a former Executive Director in a rural area, I am acutely aware of the unique challenges in communities that are outside of Denver. In the last six weeks, I have been traveling the state from Fort Collins to Greeley, Montrose to Grand Junction, Durango to Colorado Springs and Pueblo, to meet with the advocates the Arc has brought up from their local communities, folks with intellectual/developmental disabilities in their local context, and to connect with the families who are advocating on their part. The geography of Colorado is vast and so are the needs. The Arc of Colorado needs to represent all of those needs under the gold dome. My orientation is one of asset based community development. While we look at needs and gaps and deficits, I think it’s important for the Arc of Colorado to also pay attention to the unique assets in these areas. It’s our job at the Arc of Colorado to help build and retain those assets.”
What is your vision of how the Arc chapters will interconnect under your leadership?
“I think one of the significant assets of the 13 chapters of the Arcs is that they are different. The local Arcs are identified as change agents within their local community. I think that is important to maintain and support. The diversity among the Arcs, and the different kinds of programming they have, are a function of what their local communities need. Needs also change over time. My hope is the Arc of Colorado is quick to see the different changes within communities and quick to share the incredible work each of the local Arc chapters deploys. There’s a lot of learning that can happen between the 13 chapters and how they approach the issues. It is my vision and my hope that the network is stronger because of its diversity and the differences the local Arcs have.”
Why is the Arc of Colorado a good match for your expertise?
“Always central to my heart has been social justice. I can’t think of a better organization that aligns with my orientation in social justice than the Arc of Colorado and the Arc movement. At its very core it has been about social justice, equity, and inclusion, in all of the systems that intersect with intellectual/developmental disabilities. I have worked in social justice the entirety of my career. I have seen great movement in our understanding of social justice and of the capacity to move forward in making communities better. That’s an exciting proposition for the Arc of Colorado to move on.”
How will you judge your success in this position?
“The measurement of success for me is that I see individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities getting their right supports at the right time throughout their lifetime and are part of society in ways they haven’t necessarily been in the past. I think the mark of effective policy and systems change is that these valued members of our society are recognized, lifted up, and supported as valued members of our society.”