65 years old and going strong: LARC sets new goals
Angela Katz says it’s a wonderful feeling for the community to come together and help make LARC’s latest endeavor a reality because they couldn’t have done it alone.
“The individuals we serve are part of the community,” LARC’s director of development said. “When we work toward their goals-which are our goals-you can’t accomplish that without the community.”
The Lee Association for Remarkable Citizens (LARC) provides programs and services for approximately 300 men and women. It offers vocational training, community residential services, community-based services and an array of other state-of-the-art community inclusion services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
On March 12, LARC will celebrate its 65th anniversary with a campaign to support its newest program, LAB, which stands for Learn, Achieve, Become.
In recognition of their anniversary, LARC has set a fundraising goal of $65,000. It’s also kicking things off with a $20,000 Matching Challenge made possible by two anonymous $10,000 donors.
“With more than 3,700 children in Lee County schools with cognitive disabilities, LAB is creating opportunities for the people we serve now and the generations to come,” Katz said.
LAB will offer participants an experiential learning environment that transforms traditional program areas into spaces for innovation, vocation, demonstration and learning. LAB will consist of five labs, which will focus on skills for work, residency and leisure. Katz says construction should be completed by April when individuals can start participating in classes.
Katz says LAB’s primary goals are vocational skills and employment.
“That’s our goal and it has to be the individual’s goal, too,” she said. “It will focus on life skills training-things that keep them healthy and safe and as independent as they can be.”
LAB will help these individuals get jobs, while simultaneously helping to keep jobs local.
For example, one of LAB’s goals is to train participants for housekeeping, prep cook and basic kitchen jobs.
“We believe it will decrease turnover,” Katz said. “Once they find their strength and skillset, sometimes they stay there (at the job) their whole life.”
LARC Executive Director Kevin Lewis, said the majority of individuals enrolled in LARC services rely on Medicaid Waiver funding, which covers approximately 54 percent of the actual cost of services. LARC also receives funding under an agreement with the Lee County Board of County Commissioners, and United Way, which is braided with the Medicaid Waiver funding to partially support service.
According to Lewis, the remaining gap is raised through fundraising efforts.
Established in 1954, the non-profit’s mission is to empower and support individuals with disabilities and their families to reach their full potential.
“What we know,” Katz said. “is that with any person with the right resources, training and tools, people can achieve more than we can ever imagine.
“These individuals can achieve success. We just try to enhance their strength, focus on their abilities and capabilities and strengthen those so they can grow and achieve and succeed.”
The agency serves more than 300 clients a year at two sites in Lee County, along with two residential homes and a variety of community-based services. LARC serves Lee County and northern Collier County. They help 90 Cape Coral residents on a weekly basis.
LARC’s main campus is at 2570 Hanson Street in Fort Myers and it has a satellite campus in Bonita Springs. LARC also operates two residential group homes in Cape Coral and North Fort Myers.
LAB will have five stages. In the wellness lab, individuals will learn how to take care of themselves. Katz says this includes bathing, oral health, nutrition, fitness, diet, meals and how to make a shopping list.
“If we can instill good habits in them and they are healthy, they are more employable,” Katz said. “These are skills that will layer on each other, but they also help with life skills and daily independence.”
The construction lab will be transformed into a mock studio apartment. There will be a bedroom, kitchen and dining room area, basic appliances and a smart TV.
It will teach everyday living skills that are important for independence, daily living and employability. These include things like folding and hanging clothes. They will also learn how to sweep, mop, vacuum, set and clear a table, how to make bed, and how to do their laundry. Those skills will then layer with the Smart Living Lab with smart technology.
“Everything layers,” Katz said.
“If they’re not taking care of themselves at home, then they won’t be super employable.”
They must also learn how to feel comfortable using various forms of technology. Nearly everything we do in our lives today depends on it.
“If we don’t teach this population how to be proficient in tech then we can’t teach them everything they need to know to live and work independently in the community,” Katz said.
For example, when participants apply for jobs, nearly every application is online. They’ll learn how to take advantage of apps that can help set reminders, to take medication, for example. Katz also mentioned online banking to help teach financial literacy.
“Every bit of their life,” she said. “Is dependent on tech and that ties into employability as well.”
The vocational lab supports 50 business partners in the community. Some skills individuals learn include providing packaging and assembly work. LARC’s Woodshop constructs and sells custom wood products, and more than 250 individuals are employed through LARC programs.
LAB will also have a commercial culinary training kitchen. It will mimic hotel and restaurant kitchens and teach basic entry level skills needed to enter into the hospitality industry.
“It’ll be a big problem solver for the community,” Katz said. “These jobs are high-turnover.”
The collaboration lab will work with the community. For example, Katz mentioned collaborating with a local bank to teach financial literacy. Participants will also get to see how the bank works, and it will give the bank a chance to better understand the population as well.
Katz said her job is extremely rewarding and she thinks everyone can be successful.
“They are just like us. They want to work and feel productive, successful, important and included.
“I think we are a resource to help make that happen.”
To donate: Visit www.larcinc.networkforgood.com
More information: visit www.larcleecounty.org or call 239-334-6285