AVON PARK — For Dustin Akey and Miriam Thompson, they’re days filled with learning new skills, practical applications for daily living and most importantly, socializing and interacting with teachers and friends.
The days spent at the Ridge Area Arc, a non-profit organization providing 10 services to about 190 individuals with developmental and other disabilities from Highlands, Hardee and Polk counties, are days of learning and fun for Akey and Thompson. However, without the support of those associated with Arc “consumers” or the organization, the odds of Akey and Thompson being able to afford services would be unlikely.
Because of the need for Arc services, including community living, adult day training, employment services and Sports Training and Recreational Services (STAR), the organization has initiated an Arc Scholarship Fund. The goal of the fund is to raise $70,000 for the fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 2014 to Sept. 2015.
Rhonda Beckman, Ridge Area Arc chief executive officer, said there are about 22,000 Florida residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities on the waiting list for Medicaid services. For the first time in five years, she said it has become imperative to implement a scholarship drive to help get some of these Highlands County residents the care and educations they need.
Currently, Beckman said it costs about $6,480 a year, $27 per day for five days a week, for a consumer to attend the Ridge Area Arc, 120 W. College Drive. She said many of them attend through a Florida Medicaid Waiver, which allows recipients to waive institutionalization and use direct services to assist them to live in the community. Waiver program services may offer additional supports and services than provided by traditional Medicaid, like what’s provided by Arc.
In her Ridge Area Arc office on Wednesday, Beckman stressed Arc relies on support from individuals, private foundations and corporations to get services to consumers. She said, for example, Thompson attends the Arc Adult Day Training Program four days a week. Part of the program tuition — two days each week — is paid for by family. The Ridge Area Arc pays for two more days each week through the scholarship fund.
Beckman said in 2013, about 200 consumers were serviced at the main facility on College Drive and about 35 in the three Avon Park and two Sebring group homes.
Beckman said Thompson’s mother told her without the scholarship funding, Thompson would lose a lot of the independence she has gained.
“It’s important for them to keep learning skills and getting training so they can maintain them as well as develop new skills,” she said.
During their training day, Thompson, 25, a 2011 graduate of Avon Park High School and Akey, 26, a 2011 graduate of Sebring High School, spent time making beaded necklaces in Ridge Area Arc instructor Wanda Colon’s art class. As she strung together clear, colored plastic beads, Thompson said her favorite activities at the Arc are crafts, reading and exercising to Richard Simmons’ workout videos. Beckman said Thompson has learned the basics of Microsoft Word.
“I also like the computer room and I watch YouTube. I also do writing here,” she said. “I also like reading, especially the comic books.”
In addition, Beckman said the Ridge Area Arc gets financial assistance from The Agency for Persons with Disabilities, Highlands County Commission, Highlands County School Board and the United Way of Central Florida. Much of the scholarship money and other funding helps consumers such as Akey and Thompson to learn about socialization, self-advocacy, computer and money skills, healthy living and domestic tasks such as cooking.
About 40 Ridge Area Arc consumers get some amount of non-funded services and that’s what has kept Maria Colbert donating to the Arc and willing to help with the scholarship fund. She said she has a grandson with autism and donates every month.
“It’s a great program and anything we can do to help and support I’m willing to do,” Colbert said.
As Thompson and Akey continued working on their bead project, Beckman said she hopes the community would become involved with the scholarship fund and know the support makes a big difference in a lot of lives.
“If we don’t get donations, services will stop participation for about 40 consumers. We’re hoping there will be people in the community that will be willing to make donations so they can continue to attend,” she said.
Ridge Area Arc is a member of The Arc of the United States and The Arc of Florida. Arc is supported through private contributions, Ridge Area Arc Foundation, as well as community partnerships.
For information or to donate, see www.ridgeareaarc.org or call (863) 452-1295.