Volunteer helps special-needs families

Ryan Platt has devoted his life to helping families with loved ones with learning disabilities.

For five years, Platt has volunteered with the Arc of Mecklenburg, an organization committed to helping individuals and their loved ones with developmental disabilities through advocacy and education.

Platt founded A Special Needs Plan, a service designed to help guide special needs families through the difficult legal and lifestyle issues that face them. Through A Special Needs Plan and the Arc of Mecklenburg, Platt has served hundreds of families. He was elected to the board of directors for the Arc of Mecklenburg in 2006 and has served as chairperson on the education advocacy committee.

In this role, Platt has helped organize educational workshops and seminars for families on topics such as transitional planning, guardianship issues and special-needs planning.

"We try to let families know what resources are available to them. We invite expert speakers who volunteer their time, information and talent to educate families," said Platt. "We try to put together educational items that teach families how to advocate better in political and legislative fields."

Recently, Platt was elected as vice president and is serving on the executive board.

"I am moving on with a little trepidation because I enjoyed working with the families directly. I will still be involved with the special needs planning workshop, but now I am working on new strategic direction for the Arc in terms of where we are going to focus our time. Hopefully I will be good at it. It is always great to try new things and new challenges," he said.

Platt has also been elected to the Arc of North Carolina board.

Platt started out helping the special-needs community before he worked with the Arc of Mecklenburg. He began helping families in a professional venue as the director of special care planning with HF Financial.

Platt earned his special care planner certification from the American College in 2005. The program he took gave Platt an extensive and detailed study of tax, legal, emotional and healthcare issues impacting the special-needs community.

"It is amazing because the passion in me for this community is greater now than I ever expected it to be five years ago when I began working in this field," he said.

Although the work he does is complex, his reasons for volunteering with the Arc are simple.

"I think about life with two words - service and stewardship. I do not believe we are put on this planet to make a living, spend our money and die.

"We are here to be helpful to one another and do something with value - using our abilities to help other people," said Platt. "God has blessed me with so much. My being selfish wouldn't do any good."

Platt said another reason he volunteers is to serve as a model for his three children. "I want them to have a model to grow up to be caring, heartfelt people who seek to improve themselves and their community," he said.

Ryan Platt, 36, lives in Concord with his wife of 10 years, Lisa, and three children, Kade, 6; Carter, 4; and Alexis, 2.

Platt's devotion to the Arc of Mecklenburg has not escaped notice. He was presented the Arc Angel of the Year award in 2009 for his contributions to the special-needs community. The award was given to Platt to commemorate the work he and the Arc have accomplished and how Platt has helped the organization prosper.

The award money helps pay for educational seminars at the Arc of Mecklenburg. "The $10,000 came at the right time because we have been impacted by the recession," said Platt.

"We are always interested in including more volunteers at the Arc. We have a lot different volunteer programs and events where we could use volunteers. We have a golf tournament we are organizing with a local Kiwanis club in September and would love to have volunteers for that," Platt said.