Arc slowly re-establishing PRIDE program for youth

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

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The financially strapped Arc of Southwest Washington is making money, leasing out office space to sister nonprofits and retiring long-term debt, according to board president Justin Myers.

"There's a lot going on and we are really rocking," said Myers, who has served as acting director of Arc since the last executive was let go in January 2012.

The Arc, which provides services to people with developmental disabilities and their families, is also setting aside dollars for the eventual revival of its central, therapeutic PRIDE for Kids program. The target is sometime next year, but even when PRIDE does come back to life, Myers said, it won't be what it used to be: a fully staffed physical and vocational clinic for children with disabilities.

"It won't be a 100 percent therapeutic model anymore," Myers said. There will probably be a great deal more voluntary and peer-to-peer work done at the new PRIDE, when it does come online again, he said. "We're going to have community meetings to hear what people think we are in need of and how we can get there."

The more immediate task, Myers said, is continuing to pull the shaky Arc back into the black. That's being accomplished partially by leasing out office space in its building at 6511 N.E. 18th St.

Educational Opportunities for Children and Families, which operates local Head Start classrooms, has already moved in. And on Friday, Myers said, The Arc inked a deal with New Vision Programs, which works with at-risk youth and operates group homes in Oregon and Washington, to host state-supervised visits with its young clients at the Arc.

Myers also said the Arc's long-vacant, surplus real estate on East Fourth Plain Road near Westfield Vancouver mall is finally getting a lot of looks. "We've got some highly interested parties," he said.

Million-pound drive

When the Arc went public with its financial troubles earlier this year, it also announced a million-pound clothing donation drive set to wrap up Sept. 30. So far, Myers said, the total donated is about 250,000 pounds. That's a long way from the goal, Myers said, but the Arc is thrilled nonetheless at the "outcry of community support and donations." Right now, he said, there's 50,000 pounds sitting in the Arc's warehouse just waiting for pickup and delivery to Value Village thrift stores. Myers wouldn't say how much that 50,000 was expected to bring in -- but it'll be a big, welcome chunk of cash, he said.

"It will definitely build our nest," he said.

Before the Arc can launch a revived PRIDE for Kids program, Myers said, there's more basic rebuilding to do -- like hiring an office manager and an executive director. Right now, he said, the Arc is limping along without these essential positions filled. Hiring will probably happen early next year, Myers said. Meanwhile, the Arc's paid staff still hovers at around 30 people -- down from 57 at its maximum a few year ago.

"We want to prove we've back on a solid foundation. We don't want to grow too fast," Myers said. "Fundraising has been good but not spectacular."

If you are interested in donating to the clothing drive, visit arcswwa.org or call 360-546-3158.

Scott Hewitt: 360-735-4525; http://www.facebook.com/reporterhewitt;http://www.twitter.com/col_nonprofits.