The Arc of KatyServes as Beacon of Learning, Growth and Community for Teens and Adults with I/DD

Cover Story | By John Curry –

Some of the participants of The Arc of Katy Day Program: Jordan Judman, Ozie Agirbas, Eddie Hall, Kamran Gharib, Jennifer Lee and Stacey Ha.

Almost everyone who knows anything about The Arc of Katy says it truly is a special place. And, the glowing comments aren’t simply because the organization provides meaningful programs and opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). It certainly does that. But The Arc of Katy is special for so many more reasons. In other words, it’s not just why and what they do, but how they do it.

“I’ve been involved with The Arc of Katy for 12 years, and I’ve never been involved with an organization that means as much to me as The Arc of Katy,” said Katy Mayor Bill Hastings.

Arc of Katy instructor Marilyn Smithe agreed. “The Arc of Katy is just the best place to be, for everyone.” said the retired Special Education Life Skills teacher with 27 years of experience in Katy ISD.

And, why is that? “The Arc of Katy is a place of happiness, safety, friendship, learning, growing and community discovery,” said Sandi Dancel, The Arc of Katy program coordinator.

“The program is the best,” said Donna Bode, parent of Susan, an Arc of Katy participant. “I’m really happy we’re able to do this for Susan and that she’s able to do it.”

The “program” is The Arc of Katy’s Day Program. And, ever since the Day Program began in 2005, the Arc of Katy really has taken off. Prior to the start of the Day Program, the organization – which will celebrate its 30th birthday in August – provided monthly socials, weekly bowling and educational seminars/meetings for families and care givers.

The Arc of Katy got its start in 1989 when a group of Katy ISD staff in the Special Education department and some parents were concerned about what would become of these students – individuals with I/DD – after aging out of the public school system. Those thoughts led to a meeting. Ultimately, one thing led to another, and The Arc of Katy’s articles of incorporation were approved by the State of Texas on August 2, 1990.

While the socials, weekly bowling and educational seminars/meetings continue to this day, a lot has changed since then. In 2005, the biggest change – the Day Program – began. While it began small, as most programs do, it has grown dramatically since then. From the humble beginnings of eight participants, the Day Program has grown and currently has 55 participants. Overall, the Arc of Katy now has roughly 80 participants in all its programs and activities. And, that’s because in addition to the socials, bowling and educational seminars, The Arc of Katy’s Day Program has been a juggernaut for growth.  It’s spearheaded this growth not only by providing participants with a plethora of places to go, things to do and opportunities to learn but with the assurances to parents and guardians that The Arc of Katy is a great place for their family member – teens and adults ages 16 and older in the summer and adults 18 and older during the public school year.

Donna Bode, treasurer for The Arc of Katy, Barbara Kosciewicz, instructor for The Arc of Katy and Susan Bode, a participant in The Arc of Katy programs at Cinco Ranch High School Color for A Cause. The proceeds were donated to The Arc of Katy.

“One of the most important things about The Arc of Katy is the safety factor,” said Bode. “Susan can be there, and I don’t worry about her. But on top of that, the program is the best. They have great variety, they’re out in the community, they’re visiting museums, they’re going to parks, they go to the YMCA for exercise, like basketball or Zumba. They do karaoke, tell jokes, do art, see movies. They do a lot! Sometimes Susan will come home and say, ‘my legs are really tired today.”’

Fred Shafer, The Arc of Katy’s president, said the Day Program and other activities are purposely structured to include a variety of opportunities that promote inclusiveness.  “The Arc of Katy is a great resource for families of individuals with I/DD. The Arc of Katy allows individuals with I/DD to engage in and enjoy the many benefits of their community. That’s because our mission is to provide opportunities for our participants  to be included as respected and active members of their community throughout their lifetime,” Shafer said. “We take that seriously.”

So seriously, in fact, that the organization creates opportunities for participants to be out in the community in ways that foster growth, learning and independence.

“The Arc of Katy likes to foster independence in all of the things we do,” instructor Smithe said. “So, for example, when we go to a coffee shop, the participants make their own choices what they want. They use their own money and get their own change. Using money is a basic human skill, and it’s so important they do this.”

Staying healthy also is important. Several years ago when some parents wanted more exercise for their loved ones who are participants, The Arc of Katy created a Be Strong program to be included as part of their Day Program offerings. The program was started by Therese Lattal, who is the organization’s 2020 Ann Davis Founder’s Award recipient.

Lattal has served as a volunteer and as both an instructor and the director for The Arc of Katy Day Program. In 2013, after hearing pleas from parents to keep their children and adults moving, “Lattal got the idea to start the Be Strong Program. She worked with Rhonda Johnstone to develop the exercise program as an opportunity for Day Program participants. The Be Strong Program now includes aquatics classes, both therapeutic and aerobic, and access to treadmills, stationary bikes, weights and various other muscle strengthening equipment.

“Our goal is to improve our participants’ stamina, flexibility, balance and self-esteem,” said Lattal. “It has been such a joy to see this program grow and to see individuals’ self-confidence and physical well-being improve.”

This improvement in confidence, physical well-being and self-esteem is a direct result of programs being offered by The Arc of Katy. “The Arc of Katy makes me feel really good because we do fun stuff, socialize, exercise and have nice staff taking care of us,” said Keith Butler, a 37-year-old participant who has been at The Arc of Katy for 15 years.

Participants like Butler feel good about The Arc of Katy not only because of “what they do” but “how they do it.” And this is based on the organization’s mission and the purposefulness with which The Arc of Katy structures the way it treats each individual.

“One thing about The Arc of Katy is that we don’t have a curriculum like in school,” Smithe said. “We are not trying to teach everyone the same thing. We certainly have goals, but it’s a place that thrives on variety – the variety of people with all kinds of differing disabilities and with a variety of likes and dislikes. It’s a place for everybody here. There is no one-size-fits-all approach at The Arc of Katy.”

That approach promotes a comfort zone where participants can try new things, learn, grow, be themselves and not be afraid of failure. The Arc’s program coordinator Dancel said, “My favorite thing about The Arc of Katy is to watch our participants become more confidant and outgoing, They have found a place where they can be themselves without judgment and the comfort of that is seen every day.”

And, since the participants are growing, feeling good about themselves and having improved self-confidence and self-esteem, that spills over into the community. Katy Mayor Hastings said, “I’ve seen them at different places around town, and they’re always the brightest spots where they go and the jobs they do.”

On the contrary, without The Arc of Katy, many parents are concerned that their loved ones simply would sit around all day, watch TV, play video games and have no social life. Not surprisingly, The Arc of Katy participants have the same concern.

“If I didn’t go to The Arc of Katy, I would be devastated,” said Susan Bode, Donna’s 37-year old daughter who has been a participant in The Arc of Katy Day Program since it began in 2005. That’s because The Arc of Katy provides Susan and The Arc of Katy’s other participants with a program that, while rich in diversity of things to do, see and learn, is most importantly, a place to belong.

And, there’s something invaluable about belonging. Those of a certain age may remember the hit TV show Cheers. The theme song said,

“Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came.
You want to be where you can see
Our troubles are all the same.
You want to be where everybody knows your name.
You want to go where people know
People are all the same.
You want to go where everybody knows your name.”

That’s the feeling of belonging that The Arc of Katy provides its participants. That safe feeling of belonging provides grounds for love, acceptance, growth and harmony, which, come to think of it, makes for a truly special place to be!

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