THE ARC: Susana Garcia finds dignity in work

DOWNEY - It doesn't take much to make Susana Garcia happy.

Easygoing and friendly, the 24-year-old Downey resident is modest when it comes to aspirations. However, the thought of a steady paycheck sure does put a smile on her face.

"I'm happy with what I'm doing here [at The Arc]," she said. "But I'll be so excited to go get a job soon."

Garcia's strive to independence is just one of the many stories at The Arc -- Los Angeles and Orange Counties, which has spent the last 58 years creating educational and economic opportunities for participants with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

On Valentine's Day 2011, Garcia joined The Arc community and now works in its packing and assembly plant, The Arc Southeast Industries.

"If I wasn't at The Arc, I'd probably be looking for a job -- but I learned how to pack, seal and label at the plant," said Garcia, who joined after a friend recommended The Arc's programs. "I was nervous at first, but it wasn't difficult and I've met friends here."

However, Garcia is hoping to take up a new career in the near future: child care.

"I used to volunteer at a preschool and for a daycare in a hospital," she said. "It's interesting to take care of the children, playing with them and reading them a story."

Kevin MacDonald, CEO of The Arc -- Los Angeles and Orange Counties, says clients like Garcia are prime examples of the importance of the 18th annual The Arc Walk for Independence, which is likely to draw thousands of participants on March 22 in support of children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Since 1997, the Arc Walk has raised funds and awareness for The Arc's various educational and occupational programs by inviting community members to walk either a one or three-mile route around Stonewood Center.

Starting at 8 a.m., registered walkers who donate $15 to The Arc will set out on the course, walking for independence.

Beginning at Acapulco Restaurant and Cantina, the 3-mile walk travels west on Firestone Boulevard to Lakewood Boulevard, up to Florence Avenue, around to Woodruff Avenue and back to Firestone. The Arc has seen its annual fundraising event grow from just 250 walkers in 1997 to nearly 4,000 last year.

Recognizing the importance of The Arc Walk, Garcia encourages everyone to participate, donate and walk for independence.

"The Arc Walk supports us, sponsors us...and helps us raise the money we need for the programs we like to do," she said. "I'm happy and proud of The Arc."

"She'll be a great success," MacDonald said with a grin. "It's The Arc Walk for Independence because its our goal for everyone to achieve a greater level of independence -- and it's not a play on words. Our participants have very few supports to get them where they need to be, but our programs enable people to move towards independence."

To register for The Arc Walk for Independence, visit

********** Published: March 6, 2014 - Volume 12 - Issue 47