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In partnership with families, the Greater Richmond ARC creates life-fulfilling opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

How One Local Nonprofit is Responding to the Recession 



By Marshall W. Butler, Jr., Times-Dispatch Guest Columnist

Even in the toughest of economic times, we need to remember those with special needs. Our organization, the Greater Richmond ARC (formerly the Association for Retarded Citizens), annually serves more than 1,400 area indi viduals with developmental disabilities and their families. Yet there are almost 2,000 Richmonders with similar disabilities whose needs remain unmet.

With this in mind, we are opening the Greater Richmond ARCenter next spring at 3600 Saunders Ave. on Richmond's Northside. Our new facility will increase our capacity to serve by 20 percent, allowing us to provide therapeutic care and other critical services to more individuals with developmental disabilities who need it most.

These programs include Infant and Child Development Services, where ARC therapists work with parents and their children -- from infancy to adolescence -- who are at-risk or experiencing developmental delays. This requires specialized therapy such as physical and/or occupational -- therapy that is so important to address from an early age.

The ARCenter will also house our After School and Adult Day Support programs, where activities run the gamut from recreational to instruction in daily living skills.

Our ARC Industrial Services program will continue to be run out of our current Westwood Avenue location, a facility best suited for industrial production and occupational training services. Similarly, our Camp Baker Services in Chesterfield will continue to provide after school, adult day support, and emergency respite services.

The obvious question is: How did we manage to grow at a time when everything, including government funding for nonprofits, has shrunk?

Our answer: Because we had to.

For more than 50 years, the Greater Richmond ARC's ongoing philosophy has been to "earn our keep." For example, more than 80 percent of our $11.75 million 2008 revenue was generated through our fee-for-service model. As a result of this practice, we have continued to remain financially sound without relying exclusively on donations, though they are always a benefit.

This self-sufficiency has actually helped our organization weather what has been and continues to be difficult times for most not-for-profits.

Our decision to forge ahead on a new building at a time when construction nationwide has halted on many projects was necessary.

While our Westwood Avenue headquarters is currently close to capacity, our new building will be completely handicap-accessible, with a kitchen for training, learning alcoves for small groups to minimize distractions and disruptive behaviors, a library, a multipurpose room for indoor exercise and movies, and outdoor education and recreation space.

ARC traditionally pays its way -- and we expect to support our operating budget through additional fees for service and business revenue. For the ARCenter construction project, however, we have been fortunate to receive the generous support of state and local governments, private foundations, businesses, and individuals who care about our community. Without their help, we couldn't have made it this far; for this we are grateful indeed.

While our fundraising efforts have been largely successful, we've also had to be realistic, with some of our more ambitious plans, such as a barrier-free outdoor playground and recreational facility at the new ARCenter, which have been deferred at this time.

In other words, like every other nonprofit, ARC is not recession-proof. Just resilient. Through your continued support in times like these, we will be able to serve the Greater Richmond area for the next 50 years -- and beyond.

Marshall W. Butler Jr. is president of the Greater Richmond ARC. Contact him at (804) 358-1874 or http://www.richmondarc.org

Related Links: http://www2.timesdispatch.com/rtd/news/opinion/commentary/article/ED-BUTLER19_20090717-201406/280606/