For the past 60 years, a Long Beach nonprofit organization, now known as Advocacy for Respect and Choice-Long Beach (AR&C), has provided job training, employment, life-skills education, social activities and recreation to thousands of people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. The organization operates from a complex located at 4519 E. Stearns St., just east of Lakewood Boulevard, and works behind the scenes to bring a sense of fulfillment to individuals who might otherwise be shunted aside by modern, fast-paced society.
Marion Lieberman, AR&C president, has occupied various positions on the board of directors for the past 36 years. “This organization provides a valuable service to people who really need it,” she said. “It’s well run and has a lot of caring staff.” Lieberman’s 44-year-old son has been a client in AR&C’s work activity center for 22 years.
“My son loves it here,” Lieberman noted, with a smile. “He says he goes to work every day, and he gets paid every two weeks, and this makes him very happy. To him it’s a real job, and it makes him feel like everybody else.”
Lieberman is typical of many of the board members and volunteers at AR&C. In fact, according to Harry Van Loon, AR& C executive director, the organization was established in 1952 by a group of young parents who observed that their children with special needs were not receiving appropriate or effective services in the public schools.
In 1952, the organization was called the Exceptional Children’s Foundation of Long Beach, and it was similar to other organizations that were developing throughout the country with volunteers who provided specialized educational services to special-needs children. As time progressed, board members of most of the similar organizations saw the need to expand their services and to create a national network. From that, the Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC) was born, which eventually grew into a network of 1,200 local member units. According to Van Loon, each member unit is a separate, independent nonprofit corporation– each providing a variety of services that might include infant stimulation, adult day care, residential services, job training, and/or employment.
Van Loon noted that ARC (also known as The Arc) advocacy and lobbying efforts were instrumental in the passage of federal and state laws that mandated governmental funding for educational programs and other assistance geared for special-needs children as well as adults.
Meanwhile, in the 1960s, the Exceptional Children’s Foundation, which had become an ARC member, changed its name to the Long Beach Retarded Children’s Foundation. In 1968, the Foundation established Hillside Enterprises to provide pre-vocational and vocational services for adults with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. In 1980, the organization changed its name again to the Association for Retarded Citizens-Long Beach, Inc. Finally, because the word “retarded” had become politically incorrect, in 2011 the organization changed its name again to Advocacy for Respect and Choice-Long Beach, Inc. From then on it has not been affiliated with the state or national organization known as The Arc.
Van Loon noted that AR&C now provides services daily to more than 400 adults and their families, at no cost to the clients or to the families. “A person has to meet certain criteria before we can place them into one of our programs,” he explained. “Once the criteria are met, we assess the individual to determine which of our programs will best suit his or her needs.”
Van Loon explained that AR&C/Hillside Enterprises offers four basic programs for individuals who qualify for the services.
Adult day care is offered at the Day Training Activity Center (DTAC), on the AR&C campus. The program is designed for individuals whose disabilities preclude them from being able to perform even the simplest tasks required for employment. DTAC clients are taught independent-living skills and grooming, among other things. They are also given physical exercise and recreational activities.
The Work Activity Center, also on the campus, is a sheltered workshop that specializes in contract assembly and packaging services. “We have job coaches in the center who walk around and observe the clients,” Van Loon explained. “If a client seems to be having a problem performing his or her task, the job coach helps them to overcome the problem.”
Van Loon also described the special-needs program, which is also on the campus. “This program is for clients that require an enhanced staff-to-trainee ratio because their disabilities are more severe than the clients in the Work Activity Center,” he explained… “In other words, we have more job coaches available for those clients.”
Lastly, AR&C provides the off-campus Supported Employment Program. Van Loon explained that, through this program, the organization secures paid, full-time and part-time employment for clients able to function at a higher level than those who work in the on-campus job programs. AR&C teaches those clients how to use public transit or helps provide transportation to and from work locations. “We also give them job training and have job coaches available to them in all the stores, factories or other businesses that employ them,” he added.
“No matter which of the AR&C programs you look at, you see that this organization is very important to the lives of people who might otherwise just be sitting at home, staring at the walls,” Lieberman noted. “Our hope is that we can expand our services to improve the lives of many more people, but, with the state budget cuts, our funding has been reduced, and now we are struggling just to be able to maintain our services at the same level.”
This article is the first in a two-part series.