St. Louis Arc’s dedication to children and adults with disabilities surrounds them with services throughout their lives.
“We wrap around the family from the time the child is born,” said Kathy Meath, who retired as president and CEO at the end of June after 34 years with the organization. “We have Arc families who have been with us for 30 years.” Participants range in age from six months to 90 years old.
The nonprofit has 500 employees, hundreds of volunteers and serves close to 4,000 individuals in St. Louis and St. Louis County with Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, intellectual and other developmental disabilities.
When St. Louis Arc was started in 1950, its focus was on giving children access to education, medical care and places to play, whatever their abilities or disabilities. But as the children grew up, the need for long-term support was clear. St. Louis Arc provides a full spectrum of therapy, child care, employment support, housing, leisure, recreation and family respite and support.
“Our vision is that people with developmental disabilities will live a very full, inclusive life in the community,” said Meath, who handed the reins to Mark Keeley July 1. Keeley is a 26-year veteran of the organization, most recently overseeing family support services and quality enhancement. In that role, he was charged with ensuring that St. Louis Arc met accreditation standards of United Way and other funders.
Arc’s funding comes from state and federal Medicaid funds, local governments, the United Way, corporations, individuals and some private payments. The nonprofit also has an annual golf tournament and other fundraising events.
St. Louis Arc tailors the services it provides according to a needs assessment done when a child or adult is referred to the agency. Children may need occupational, behavioral and physical therapies, and their families may need respite. As children age out of school and move into the adult world, they have needs for recreation, supportive employment and housing.
Some individuals are able to live in their own homes or apartments, but need help paying their bills or managing other tasks. Others need a group home where they get assistance and supervision as needed. St. Louis Arc provides services for both groups. The agency also is seeing a growing need to serve disabled adults who have lived at home all their lives but whose parents are aging and need help caring for their son or daughter, and in some cases, for themselves.
The agency’s recreation programs include team and individual sports for children and adults, and many of the agency’s 1,100 volunteers work with paid staff in those programs. Some activities have become support groups for parents over the years, Meath said.
“We have mothers who have taken their sons and daughters to bowling leagues for 35 years,” said Meath. The mothers have become a support system for each other.
Arc’s Capable Kids and Families program provides toys and adaptive equipment for home use that help children build and practice skills on their own. It also offers play groups at the St. Louis Arc Family Center in Creve Coeur, Mo.
St. Louis Arc has worked with the University of Missouri-St. Louis to create SUCCEED, a new two-year post- program for individuals who have finished high school and want to learn to live and work independently. Students live in a residence hall, learn to cook and do laundry while also gaining job skills. The program includes an on-campus internship the first year and an off-campus internship the second year.
“When they graduate, they have actual careers and not just a mundane job,” Keeley said. Ten of the first class of 16 just graduated, another class just completed the first year, and the third will start the program in the fall.
Meath said increasing life expectancy for individuals with disabilities brings its own challenges. People with Down syndrome are more likely to experience early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. That means more training for St. Louis Arc’s staff and new programs to help clients.
Employees often join Arc after completing education in their chosen fields. The agency provides them additional training according to their roles, using a program accredited by the Council on Quality and Leadership, which focuses on 21 outcomes. Topics include abuse and neglect prevention, CPR, first aid and other training related to types of disabilities. Each new staff member also receives a copy of Arc’s code of ethics.
St. Louis Arc recently completed a new strategic plan that focuses on resource management and community engagement, Keeley said. That means it needs to make sure it has the staff and resources to provide the programs its participants need and to do a better job of educating the larger community about the organization and its services.
St. Louis Arc has won a number of awards, including two Stellar Awards from Variety, the Children’s Charity. Its employees have won several awards from ANCOR, the American Network of Community Options and Resources; an award from the Missouri Rehabilitation Association and one from the Recreation Council of Greater St. Louis.
Keeley said he expects to build on the foundation Meath built in her 34 years at St. Louis Arc, making few changes.
“She’s been my supervisor, mentor and has provided a ton of guidance,” Keeley said. “We’ll continue to be engaged with our families to find out the service they need to support their family member.”
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