An ark brings to mind a safe haven and new beginnings in an uncertain world.

Arc DeSoto in Arcadia provides those same things, but for dozens of our neighbors with intellectual and physical disabilities.

Walking into the adult center for Arc DeSoto, I hear laughter from those watching television. There were a handful of folks in the building, the rest at Arcadia Municipal Golf Course, practicing for Florida’s Special Olympics. During my talk with Robin Carrender, Arc DeSoto’s executive director, I learned the nonprofit serving those with special needs has been in Arcadia since 1976. The idea is to assist those with such hardships as Down syndrome to cerebral palsy to learn life skills and to discover life’s joys.

Arc DeSoto has 24 students in supported living programs and two group homes. Supported living provides individual apartment housing for four students. A coach helps them with regular living, taking meds, paying bills, ensuring daily needs are met. Group living is for seven more residents.

A typical day at Arc DeSoto is class time, learning to cook, about art, kitchen safety, computers, math and money management, daily living or life skills, rights and responsibilities, recognizing neglect and exploitation, all subjects learned. There’s also fun and health, basketball, kickball, a garden to tend. Arc DeSoto also participates in local parades, which is where I discovered this amazing program, members marching with flags. Robin explained that participants are “very proud of their flag team, they even take part in several competitions, (longtime Arc DeSoto advocate) Jackie Tucker volunteers her time to get them ready to compete. Students are also excited about preparing for Special Olympics each year. We just want our people to be able to enjoy the same things that we all enjoy.”

Local merchants in past years had supported Arc DeSoto by hiring its members. “This gives our people a tremendous feeling of self-worth,” Robin said, “and I hope we can re-establish some positions within the community again. We take special care to make sure the individuals from Arc are capable of handling the jobs they are asked to do. In fact, one gentleman in our group is applying as a volunteer at (DeSoto) Animal Control, his job will be walking the dogs and cleaning out the pens. He is very excited about this new adventure.”

Arc DeSoto receives some state funding, but waiting periods can stretch over years. Early enrollment is encouraged. And Arc DeSoto plans several fund-raisers this year to offset some financial cuts.

Just a note to keep them in your prayers this year. And remember about pocketbook donations.

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