In 1950, two moms placed an ad in the paper, searching for other parents who wanted a better life for their children. “They were starting a local branch of Arc, a national organization for people with developmental disabilities and their families,” explains Kathy Meath, president/CEO of St. Louis Arc. “In those days, there weren’t many resources for children with special needs, and parents had few places to turn.” Expecting maybe 10 responses to their ad, the moms were amazed when more than 150 people showed up at a South City YWCA.
From that grassroots start, St. Louis Arc has grown into an area leader in supporting people with developmental disabilities such as Down syndrome and autism. “In the beginning, Arc was simply a group of volunteer parents organizing play groups in their back yards,” Meath says. “Today, we help 3,000 people annually to live, work, play and give back to their communities—and we’ve been doing it for 60 years.”
Arc’s 60th anniversary celebration tees off with its 20th annual golf tournament Monday, May 24, at The Country Club of St. Albans. Proceeds will benefit the organization’s programs and services. “It’s our major fundraiser—last year’s event raised about $200,000,” Meath says. “The tournament has always been critical to our mission, and we rely on it more than ever now that government funding has been cut.” Festivities will continue throughout the year, with a 60th anniversary gala taking place Nov. 13 at the Chase Park Plaza.
“The crown jewel of the celebration will be the unveiling of our new Family Center in Creve Coeur,” Meath says. “After 60 years we finally have a home of our own, where families can come for support, advice and programs. We’ll have much more space for workshops, training, classes and networking events.” Building renovations should be finished by this summer.
St. Louis Arc provides a wide range of person-centered programs and services, including supported living aid, employment and vocational training, early intervention therapy, child care, family support, respite care and advocacy. “Each individual is unique—that’s why we tailor a plan for each family,” Meath says. “Our role is to make sure our clients can access whatever services they need.”
Meath is particularly proud of Arc’s comprehensive employment programs. “Our staff is dedicated to finding and developing jobs for our clients so they can be as independent as possible,” she says. “We talk to them, determine their career goals, then decide if they’re ready for employment. We help them develop career skills, work on their resumes and hone their interview skills.” In addition to evaluation and training, Arc’s career staff assist new hires in learning their jobs—at no cost to employers.
Arc cares for the caregivers, too. “We have an increasing number of aging parents who need support for their children,” Meath says. “We’re also dealing with younger families where, say, a mother is responsible for a child with special needs as well as an elderly parent. The burden can be overwhelming, but Arc is always there for them.”
The need for Arc’s services is greater than ever, Meath notes. “With our anniversary events, new Family Center and capital campaign, we’re building for the future,” she says. “Our ultimate goal is to make sure that all people with developmental disabilities are valued, fully accepted, fully participating members of our community. We’re here for them during all the transitions in their lives, and hope to continue offering a lifetime of high-quality services for another 60 years.”
On the Cover: St. Louis Arc, an organization that provides support and services for people with developmental disabilities and their families, celebrates its 60th anniversary this year with a new Family Center in Creve Coeur. Other festivities include the 20th annual St. Louis Arc Golf Tournament, a fundraiser on Monday, May 24, at The Country Club of St. Albans. For more information, call Carolyn Schnuck at 817-2241 or email email@example.com.
Cover design by Erica Fisher | Photo by Jason Mueller