By: Cos Lindstrom Issue: Education & Workforce Development Section: Inspiration
The Story of the Arc Thrift Stores/The Birth of a non-profit
In the 1960s there was little known about intellectual & developmental disabilities. Because of the lack of understanding of disabilities adults were sent away to institutions that were less than ideal. Children would face similar fate by the age of 21. The parents of these victims faced a hard long road, accepting the decision because the practice was considered the “norm”. One day a group of parents in Boulder County, Colorado wanted to raise money to improve the quality of life for the disabled and helped create a grassroots movement to improve the quality of life of those with developmental disabilities which is known today as the Arc and ACL of Boulder County.
With an urgent need for funds, Metropolitan Arc was created as a fundraising mechanism and opened a used goods store called the Value Village Thrift later that year. Generous citizens could donate used items and the proceeds from reselling them would go to funding Arc’s local advocacy work. Today, 46 years after inception, there are 18 thrift stores along the Colorado Front Range from Pueblo to Fort Collins known today as the Arc Thrift Store. They accept everything from household goods, vehicles, cash, and yes, even real estate. Arc Thrift has over 700 employees and serves a population of three million in their stores.
In 2001, another form of fundraising was created, Vehicles for Charity (VFC). VFC is a subsidiary of Metropolitan Arc and was created as another way to raise funds for the Arc and ACL chapters. While M.A.R.C./Arc Thrift Stores had informally taken vehicles for a number of years, it wasn’t until other local non-profits called for assistance. Today, over 350 charities nationwide, accept donations on their behalf.
Today Arc Thrift is one of the largest employers of persons with developmental disabilities in the State of Colorado. Over 80 percent of the disabled in the state are unemployed and over five percent of the population has a disability. Of the 700 Arc employees in Colorado, seven percent have a disability. Arc also provides employment and health insurance for a number of other at-risk populations including the homeless; women from safe houses; refugees; minorities; seniors; veterans; Katrina evacuees; ex-offenders; and persons with histories of substance abuse.
A Man with a Mission - Lloyd Lewis, President & CEO Lewis is a businessman.
He received his masters degree in business at the University of Chicago, and worked at IBM and Smith Barney; a financial consulting firm. Prior to coming to Arc, he was the CFO of a private sector company in Longmont, Colorado. Then, Lloyd’s life changed with the births of his sons – both with disabilities.
His oldest son Kennedy has Downs syndrome and his youngest son Aiden is autistic. Everyday Lloyd faces new challenges that drive him even harder to improve the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities and their parents by generating funds for the Arc & ACL programs in Colorado.
On October 18, 2007 Lloyd testified on behalf of Representative Michael Garcia to pass the bill which would reduce the waiting list for services for adults with disabilities developmental disabilities act. In Colorado alone, there are over 3,000 people on the waiting list for important services including medical and other basic human services. He brought his four-year-old son Kennedy along and told the legislators, “Had Kennedy been born 44 years ago, not four years ago, we would have been encouraged to send him to an institution. Had he been born 64 years ago, we would have had no other choice than to send him to an institution. Had he been born 74 years ago in Europe, he might have been exterminated.” He closed his testimony with this statement, “In a society that has sequenced the human genome, and has widely explored outer space, eliminating a waiting list for basic services for some of our most vulnerable citizens is something that we can and must do.” Not too long after those words, several bills were passed.
Since taking the helm of Arc in early 2005, Lewis has pushed for high standards at the organization. For him, working at Arc is a means to change people’s perspective of how people with disabilities are perceived. He believes that every job at Arc serves a higher purpose. Furthermore, the last three years have produced more efficiencies at this non-profit. Lewis and the management team have more than doubled the amount of disabled employees working for Arc, while maintaining a lower than average employee and management turnover rate. In fact, Arc’s largest competitor tried to recruit several managers with more money and benefits, yet all of them stayed. According to Bruce Stahlman, Arc’s CFO, “Coming to work is different. It is more than business - we are here to make a difference by leading with our mission. It feeds our soul and our bank accounts.”
“I Am Different”
My name is Garnons Muth. I am 45 years old and have worked at Arc Thrift Store in Aurora, Colorado for 21 years. I show up to work on time and enjoy my job. On Mondays, I go swimming and on Fridays, I go bowling with some of my co-workers. I attend weekly meetings with my supervisor Craig Koppel and the CEO Lloyd Lewis. On Saturdays, I work with my friend April and we eat lunch together. April & I have something in common - we both have Down syndrome. My disability affects 1 in every 800 newborn babies and is a condition that delays the way I have developed mentally and physically. But, my life and my job would not be possible if it were not for some parents of kids and adults like me that wanted change back in the 1960’s. Thank You!
Success Grows With Commitment
Over the past three years, Arc has experienced growth not historically familiar to the non-profit. Revenue increased from $33.9 million in 2006 to $38.3 million in 2008 and the number of distributions was up from 3 million in 2006 to 3.3 million in 2008. In the last 5 years Arc has generated over $10 million in proceeds.
Record donations, dollar amounts spent per customer, and television advertising were all factors leading to the recent financial success of Arc. In April of 2007, Arc began a month long food drive that delivered 73 tons of food to Volunteers of America’s City Harvest Food Bank. The VOA Harvest then distributed the food amongst the 75 local shelters and soup kitchens for free. The 2007 food drive was the second largest food drive in Colorado and the most successful Arc food drive to date.
Each year Arc continues to collaborate with City Harvest and Meals on Wheels to donate food. Spearheaded by Arc’s telemarketing group known as “Jane”, countless calls were made to the public reminding them to donate non-perishable food items and Arc would pick them up. In 2007 over 106,000 pounds of food were donated. In recent years Arc has invited local business and other non-profits to assist in helping collect food items and make it a “super drive”. Some of the local and retuning businesses are Rose Medical Center, Steve Casey’s Recreational Sales and Citywide Banks. Each of the 17 Arc thrift stores in Colorado act as a collection point for the food drives each year.
With Arc’s relentless pursuit to improve the lives of the disabled, there will be a continued focus on providing a good shopping experience for the consumer while supporting an exceptional cause. We all need to do what we can to support the ever growing population of those in need of a helping hand and take time out of our busy lives to give back. It is the belief that going the extra mile can pave a road for all those who will travel on it.
For more information about arc go to www.arcthrift.com. If you would like to donate please call 303-238-5263 or 1-800-283-2721.