The Jewish Association for Residential Care (JARC) celebrates 26 years this Sunday with a much-anticipated gala at Boca West Country Club that includes an appearance and presentation by Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin.

In addition, the nonprofit that operates 10 group homes in South Florida for adults with developmental disabilities will honor its standout executive director, Debra Hallow, who has spent nearly two decades with the organization.

Boca Raton caught up with Hallow on the eve of the gala:

What is your role as executive director?

I’m responsible, ultimately, for everything—including running this charity like a business. … The parents [of our residents] place their trust in me with their children. There is no greater responsibility than being responsible for somebody else’s child.

What makes JARC special?

JARC is special because every day we are striving to be better than we are. Our tagline is to give extraordinary people the opportunity to lead an ordinary life.

What is the biggest misconception about the residents?

I believe the resistance to these homes comes from lack of knowledge and fear. A lot of people said [in the beginning], “I think it’s a great idea but don’t build it next to me.”

People at that time were pretty militant in their objection. However, once the residents moved in, it was a nonevent.

I had one neighbor who wanted me to buy his house or he was going to sue [us] for damages because [JARC] ruined his life by building this group home. About two years after we moved into the neighborhood, the gentleman wrote a letter and apologized for his behavior. He said, “These are the best neighbors; they are polite and they are kind.” I think the biggest misconception is the stereotyping of people with developmental disabilities.


When: March 11

Where: Boca West Country Club

Tickets: $250 per person

Contact: 561/558-2550