One comic book character has big mechanical legs. Another carries a giant pencil. Embodying the ideas of walking, talking, reading and writing, the four superhero characters created for the St. Louis Arc represent the key services the organization provides children with developmental disabilities in the local community. “We wanted something that captures the spirit of what we do to help kids succeed,” explains John Taylor, the organization’s VP of advancement.
With the recent merger of the agency and the Belle Center, those children now have an even better chance to succeed. Founded in 1950, the Arc focuses on providing a continuum of support services to families with children with autism, Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities. Looking for a way to collaborate with Belle Center, an organization with a 27-year history of providing early childhood programs, the leaders of the two nonprofits determined that a merger would be a natural fit for their respective missions and philosophies; and last July 1, Belle Children’s Services of the St. Louis Arc was born. “Belle Center had a bold vision for growing its programs, but needed the capacity and infrastructure to make its vision possible,” Taylor says. “The Arc has always provided a lifetime of support, but we acknowledged the need to expand our early intervention services.”
The merger combined Belle’s small staff—which includes 25 therapists who provide speech, occupational, physical and developmental therapies to young special-needs children—with the Arc’s 500-member staff who work with families to provide a range of services, programs and referrals for all ages and facets of life. The new division allows the Arc to grow its early childhood programs, while also providing an easy, continuous transition into other services as those children age. And those services are greatly needed, Taylor notes. “Those families are really desperate for a place to turn for help for their children, not just for the therapeutic aspects, but also how the parents, siblings, etc., can be supported as they help that child have a good life. We take a lifespan look at people and figure out how we can help them in their futures. That investment begins at a young age.”
To celebrate the creation of Belle Children’s Services, the organization will launch its first ‘Superheroes for Kids’ event on April 11 at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. With a goal of raising funds and awareness of the Arc’s new division, the evening also will mark the debut of the four superhero characters, created especially for the agency by David Steward II through his new company, Lion Forge Comics. Steward and his wife, Mary, are serving as co-chairs of the evening, along with honorary chair David Giuntoli, star of NBC’s Grimm, and a St. Louis native. “We knew we wanted to do something different than a traditional event,” Taylor notes. “We want to use these superheroes to engage the kids, while also amplifying and personifying what we do. It brings it to life in a fun way, and we want to incorporate the characters into our children’s programs.”
The fundraiser also gives the organization an opportunity to honor Barbara Stewart with its first Superhero for Kids award. Stewart left the Arc in 1984 to found Belle Center, and recently has come full-circle back to the Arc to provide counseling services. “We want to honor her because Belle Center and Belle Children’s Services wouldn’t be around without her vision,” Taylor says.
The Arc hopes to continue that vision and expand it through Belle Children’s Services, and Taylor is excited about the possibilities after just seven months. “The need is so great for the services we can provide, and we want to bring more of that to children around the St. Louis area. It’s been an incredible start to what we envision this can be.”