Rock rides to the rescue for Arc

Music festival to benefit struggling nonprofit that advocates for disabled

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter



If you go

What: Monkeyfest 2012 — a rock festival benefitting the Arc of Southwest Washington

Featuring: Food, poker run, car show, many raffles including Corvette Indy pace car, and live bands including Magic Carpet Ride

When: 6 p.m. July 6 and 3 p.m. July 7.

Where: 3 Monkeys Pub, 7917 N.E. Hwy. 99

Cost: $20 per day — food, drink and raffles are extra.

Band lineup and other details: 360-828-7006 or Monkeyfest.

They say rock 'n' roll can save your soul. Can it save the Arc of Southwest Washington?

Some local folks might call the Arc the soul of this community. The homegrown nonprofit agency has been educating, training and caring and advocating for the least among us — people of all ages with developmental and intellectual disabilities of all sorts, including Down syndrome and autism — for the better part of a century.

But times are tough for any effort that relies on public funding and donations, and the Arc is struggling to survive. In the year since what used to be the Arc of Clark County absorbed three similarly struggling sister agencies — in Cowlitz, Skamania and Wahkiakum counties — and renamed itself the Arc of Southwest Washington, things slid toward insolvency. State and county contracts were lost, and nearly half the staff was laid off. There is no executive director at the Arc now; the president of the Arc's all-volunteer board, U.S. Bank manager Justin Myers, is acting as day-to-day director.

"We went into last year feeling good, feeling it was going to be a turnaround year for us," Myers said in a telephone interview. "But the market has softened even more."

A big chunk of the Arc's budget comes from Value Village thrift store sales, but clothing donations are way down, Myers said. A telephone drive for more clothing donations or cash "didn't produce the results we needed," he said. Partnerships with neighborhoods, churches and sister nonprofit agencies have been helpful but no panacea, he said.

Can rock music provide that panacea?

Glen Bui, a former member of the rock band Steppenwolf, thinks so. Bui and the owner and manager of the Three Monkeys Pub in Hazel Dell have hatched a rescue effort dubbed Monkeyfest. Set for the evening of July 6 and the afternoon and evening of July 7, it will feature Magic Carpet Ride (a Steppenwolf reincarnation), Leon Hendrix (brother of late Seattle guitar god Jimi), and a host of other acts that offer up hard rock, classic rock and country music.

There'll be a Saturday poker run for bikers and many raffles, including a classic convertible Corvette Indy 500 pace car. There'll be an outdoor bar and a giant smoker pumping out Louisiana ribs, plus all the fixings. Details have been fluid, but Three Monkeys manager Shelli Bourgoine said tickets will be $20 per day. Visit to learn more.

All proceeds will benefit the Arc of Southwest Washington. Referring to the fact that the Arc just celebrated its 76th birthday, Myers said, "We need the Arc to be around for another 76 years at least."

Wounded PRIDE

The Arc provides as many as 7,000 families across four counties such services as guardianship and money management for adults and support and advocacy for families. But the core of its mission has long been early professional intervention and therapies for children.

Of all the wounds the Arc sustained over the past year, Myers said, the worst was the closure of its PRIDE for Kids program. Readers of a March 2011 Sunday story on the Arc may remember a heart-tugging photo of 4½-year-old Katie Califf pushing along on her walker while her physical therapist watched her go; that's the sort of work PRIDE for Kids was doing.

"We always loved the kids. That's our passion and our mission. It's really the heart of what we do," Myers said.

That heart has stopped. Part of the reason is the cascading effect of the ongoing Great Recession: families with less money to spend on services meant fewer appointments and more down time for costly professional staffers, Myers said. It also meant more fighting with insurance companies over reimbursements for billable services.

"The services we provided ended up taking losses in that program," said Myers. "We started realizing if PRIDE is going to continue at the same level, we're going to be facing a pretty huge deficit. We needed to restructure the program so it would pay for itself."

Layoffs and cancellations raised the ire of parents and clients who loved the services they got — to say nothing of the staff that was let go — but Myers said there really was no choice but to stop and rethink.

"Everybody wants PRIDE back. Unanimously, we agree we have to move it forward," he said. "We are going to seek a lot of community support and volunteers. It doesn't have to be an insurance billable division."

The Arc is looking to relaunch a reshaped PRIDE program and hire a new executive next year, he said. Meanwhile, the Arc is down from 57 employees a couple of years ago to approximately 30 now, Myers said.

"It was very difficult. They are all great, committed people. But it was a question of, what are we going to do to keep the lights on?"

Personal connection

Myers said his connection with the Arc and disabled children is personal: the Portland native's big birth family included a youngest sister with Down syndrome. "We were always involved in the Arc in Portland," he said. When his family moved to Vancouver a few years ago, he started volunteering with the Arc and eventually became treasurer and then board president.

"With a background in banking and an MBA in finance, I'm all about numbers and budgets," said Myers. "I looked at this organization and thought, we could really take it places."

Reality got in the way, he said.

As for Monkeyfest, Myers said, "It warms my heart to hear this is out there."

Why Three Monkeys? Because pub owner Jeff Boltz's son Jack is a Down syndrome kid who's been going to the Arc for years.

"They had to shut PRIDE down, and that's a really sad thing," Boltz said. Boltz said he is able to afford private therapy and services for his son, but he knows plenty of others who relied on the public funding that underwrote the Arc's PRIDE program. Now, he said, they're simply out of luck.

"It's sad to see it go when it helps so much," said Boltz.

Scott Hewitt: 360-735-4525; or