Arc officials remain hopeful for the coming year

DOWNEY - Twenty five-year-old Laia Jreisat, a lifelong Downey resident and Warren High School alum, has been searching for a job since 2008."And she's still actively looking," said Luana Acuna, director of vocational services at Arc of Southeast Los Angeles County. "We're very optimistic. Right now, she's training and gaining new skills. She hopes to find a job here in Downey so she doesn't have to go far." "I'm good with fashion - I really want to work at Ross," added Jreisat, a faithful participant of Arc, the nearly 55-year-old Downey organization that provides vital services and training for nearly 350 children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Arc officials, as well as Jreisat, hope that 2011 proves to be a better year for Arc, its participants and programs, as a troubled economy continues to hamper the organization's resources and funding. "What I go to bed with at night is this, 'did we give them one wonderful, quality day?,'" said Kevin MacDonald, executive director of the Arc. "If we did...that's good. We've been doing this a long time…no matter what, we'll make it work." As a part of the organization's annual appeal campaign, support letters soliciting the community to donate have already been mailed out to potential donors. When it comes to Arc's financial stability, MacDonald believes the most powerful resource is the community. "We face an uncertain tomorrow," MacDonald wrote in the appeal letter. "The state of California cut our funding by over $100,000 this year, school district support has decreased considerably…we believe that with your support, the mission will continue, the work will go on and people will have a better quality of life because of all of us." Donald Earles, 62, knows firsthand what a difference Arc makes. As a participant for nearly 40 years, Earles, once active in the Arc's food service training program, has witnessed many changes over the years. Today, he is retired with his own apartment in Downey, a feat made possible through independent living programs at Arc. "He's not alone. We communicate with the property managers and give him plenty of support," said MacDonald. "He comes and sees the seniors during the day. The change is different, but he has family support around him." Pasadena resident June Romero has worked with the senior consumers at Arc in Downey for the last two years and hopes to continue next year. "I used to work at Mervyn's over at Stonewood [Center], but after they closed, I was out of work. I put in an application here," said Romero. "I've been learning ever since - they have a lot of love in their hearts." In addition to Jreisat, MacDonald said there are nearly 30 Arc participants that have completed the vocational program, known as Fast Track, and are job ready right now. But, since the economic downturn, the organization has struggled to place these individuals. Jorge Angulo, 29, however, managed to earn a job in the warehouse of Southeast Industries, the packaging and assembling company owned and operated by the Arc. "He was looking for a while," said Acuna. "But even if it was for a janitorial job, Jorge dressed like it was a CEO position. He heard about the warehouse opportunity here and applied. He went through the application process like everyone else." Currently, Angulo works Monday through Friday loading, unloading and shipping materials for Southeast Industries. MacDonald hopes that next year more employers will be willing to hire their participants. SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills has already hired several Arc participants and has sponsored fundraisers for the organization. "And they've requested more of our people - they know our consumers are good workers," said MacDonald with a smile. "We'd love for them to work here in Downey, but if not…there's a hotel in Beverly Hills that will hire them." Nonetheless, MacDonald maintains that it takes the entire community's support to continue these programs that both educate and inspire people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. "We provide hope to people who live in your community," said MacDonald. "By helping us - we can help others succeed through Arc, they just happen to have a developmental disability." While a new job in the clothing industry ranks high on Jreisat's Christmas wish list, the active young adult, who currently volunteers at the Columbia Memorial Space Center every Friday, is truly thinking about what she can give this year. "I want to buy some notebooks for my brother," she said after being asked what she wanted for Christmas. "I'd like a cell phone, but I wish I could buy my sister a car…she works Monday through Friday. She needs one."

********** Published: December 23, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 36