It takes a village to teach respect

DOWNEY - It's difficult not to fall in love with Arc of Southeast Los Angeles and the population it serves.For nearly 60 years, Arc has been attending to the educational, vocational and cultural needs of people with intellectual disabilities. The consumers, as they're called at Arc, learn valuable skills they would not otherwise learn elsewhere. Perhaps more important, however, is the value of self-worth instilled in consumers. Arc does it by treating consumers with respect and dignity, speaking to them as adults, not children. Kevin MacDonald, executive director at Arc, credits the Downey community for creating a culture that goes beyond mere acceptance of people with disabilities. The Downey community has taken a step further and appears to value people who deal all too often with stares and degradation. "You can see that consumers in this city walk with a little bounce to their step," MacDonald said during a recent tour of Arc's facilities on Woodruff Avenue. "They know they're respected here in Downey." The Arc Walk for Independence on Saturday morning is a celebration of that respect. It's a fundraiser, sure, but more importantly it's a chance to reaffirm to Arc consumers their value and importance to the local community. These are just some of the reasons why I will walk Saturday: I walk because Arc consumers make excellent employees, sometimes the best employees. I walk because the unemployment rate for people with intellectual disabilities is 75% I walk because California legislators slashed Arc funding by $125,000 last year and plan to cut an additional $125,000 on July 1, while expecting Arc to maintain the same level of services. I walk because, in the face of budget cuts, corporate support for the Arc Walk continues to reach new peaks. I walk because Arc's new slogan is "Achieve with Us" and its name will soon change to The Arc - Los Angeles and Orange Counties, representative of its growing client base. I walk for Acapulco Restaurant's free breakfast burritos. I walk because Arc's banquet center is a hidden gem in the community, ideal for parties, wedding receptions and quincea?±eras, at affordable prices. A separate conference center is cutting-edge, with a 100-inch projection screen and optional laptops with Wi-Fi broadband. I walk because Arc's banquet and conference centers are marketed on their own merits, and not as a form of charity. I walk because the Laker Girls will lead the crowd in a pre-walk stretch. I walk out of jealousy, because Arc consumers are not embarrassed to dance when people are watching. I walk to have fun and share in the building of a positive community.

********** Published: March 24, 2011 - Volume 9 - Issue 49