Local lawyer advocates for people with developmental disabilities
By Erika Steele, Contributing Writer
Region – People may know Fred Misilo as a local attorney at Fletcher Tilton or the past deputy commissioner at Department of Developmental Services; however, the man with 27 years of law practice in his work repertoire wears many other hats. While he is proud of his day job to uphold justice, he is just as passionate about pursuing rights for people with cognitive and developmental disabilities.
Misilo volunteers with The Arc of the United States, a national organization that, according to its mission statement, “promotes and protects the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively supports their full inclusion and participation in the community.”
Misilo and The Arc work tirelessly to create awareness and implement political policies to put people, not their disabilities, first by granting them civil and legal rights.? On annual basis, Arc-affiliated programs serve over one million individuals and families across the nation.
In the late 1970s, a young Misilo was coming into his own in various roles supporting individuals with intellectual disabilities. As student at UMass Amherst, Misilo had an individual concentration in the field but also worked as a student intern in a variety of settings, including the Worcester Arc, the Southern Worcester County Arc, and Belchertown State School. It is those early experiences that Misilo credits for fueling 35 consecutive years of volunteering.
“The 1970s was a time when there was a lot of change, innovation, and new and exciting opportunities in special education and in developing community-based services and supports,” recalled Misilo.?”If you were in the right place at the right time, had the right attitude, and really worked hard, you could see positive changes happen.”
He developed skills and abilities through undergraduate, graduate, and law school and, with his work and volunteer opportunities, he quickly sought to make a difference. The Worcester native now puts in anywhere from four to 15 hours a week in various volunteer activities to supplement the 50 plus hours he puts in as an attorney.
“It's all about prioritization, good time management skills, and a very understanding wife,” he joked.
Misilo believes in The Arc because it was founded by families who felt they needed to take things into their own hands to provide opportunities and alternatives to what really did not exist??” meaningful work, community-based residential services and support, access to health care, job training, recreational opportunities, and more.
The man of goodwill gave a simple explanation to why he continues to serve after all these years: “It is the spirit of The Arc, the passion of the people involved and the optimistic, positive change that is possible when we empower individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to become full participating members of their communities.”
Misilo serves on the board of The Arc of the United States, and its Legal Advocacy Committee. He is also a director of Fallon Community Health Plan and the Arc of Cape Cod and a past president of the Arc of Massachusetts.
When asked of his most memorable moment in the past 35 years, Misilo could not boil it down.
“I think that what I regard as really the lifeblood of the organization is to serve as an advocate and a positive change agent,” he said, adding that his experience has been a series of moments that continue to reaffirm his involvement.
Misilo has no plans to stop volunteering and encourages anyone who believes in equal rights to get involved.
“There is still much to be done to continue the mission of the Arc,” he said.
Misilo lives in Northborough with his wife, Sandy, where they have been for the past year.
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