Arkansas Center for Independence completes Newport disabilities facility

by George Jared ([email protected]) 688 views 

Jane Parnell was a longtime educator in the Newport area and when she died her family had a decision to make about her estate. She had a nephew with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and the family decided to donate $500,000 from her estate to the Arkansas Center for Independence, Executive Director Glenda Rutledge-May told Talk Business & Politics.

ACI has recently completed construction of its $2.5 million facility in Newport. Located on two and a half acres, the 8,750 square-foot building is centered in the heart of town next to the WRMC Medical Complex.

The donation helped to propel their years-long fundraising efforts, she said.

“We had two fundraisers a year for eight years until COVID hit … without that donation, we might still be having fundraisers,” she said.

For the past 63 years, the non-profit organization has been committed to providing support and services to adults 18 years and older with IDD.

“We are so excited to be in our new facility. We could not have made it here without the support of the entire community, and especially Cindy Ward and the Jane Parnell estate,” Rutledge-May said. “We have worked long and hard to finally see this project come to fruition. Anyone that had a chance to visit our old location will understand how significant a milestone this new location and building are for our staff and clients. The building we were in was crumbling around us. The heat and air had gone out, and we were limping through until we could make it into this gorgeous new building which now provides a safe and healthy environment for the people we serve.”

ACI formerly known as the Jackson County Learning Center, was founded in 1959. In that same year, the organization’s building was constructed out of concrete blocks. It was expanded in sections over a period of years and served as the primary day facility for adults with IDD. The non-profit was located northeast of Newport near the airbase in what is now referred to today as the industrial district. In 2011, the non-profit purchased a two-and-a-half-acre swath with the goal to build a new facility.

It took 11 years of capital fundraising and pursuing grant efforts to acquire the funds for the project, she said.

“Our previous location was on the outskirts of town and few people even knew the company existed. The organization and the clients we served were ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind,’” ACI Director of Finance Glenda Moody said.

The new facility on Ray Street will serve as ACI’s primary headquarters and will provide advanced training resources and life skills coaching through the center-based day program for adults with IDD.

The facility features four classrooms, all of which include smart boards for interactive, enhanced learning. Two of the rooms are traditional classrooms where individuals will learn basic vocational and daily life skills. The third classroom, known as the household skills room, is a mock-up of a small apartment to help clients develop, maintain, and improve daily independent living skills.

The Center’s fourth classroom features a computer lab that will allow clients to learn basic computer skills, internet safety, and beginner graphic design and product development.

“The increase of classroom space has allowed us to provide substantial versatility and flexibility to each of these specialized classrooms which adds an additional layer of support to help our adults with IDD achieve their living, educational and employment goals,” Rutledge-May added.

If clients become over-stimulated and need to decompress or just want to sit and read in a quiet space, they will be able to utilize the Pat Fisher Library, workout in the fitness center or shoot hoops in the facility’s indoor half-court basketball gymnasium and multi-purpose room.

The new building also boasts a full-service commercial kitchen adjacent to the multi-purpose room, both of which could be used for community events. This new facility has also allowed the organization to significantly upgrade its security and IT infrastructure to provide a more secure learning environment and future growth of the organization.

“This building is a significant new era for ACI – the amenities that this new facility offers has placed the organization in a position to increase its efficiencies and provide more accessible services not only to the clients, but new opportunities to service the community as well,” ACI Business Development Director Darah Bounds said.

Since 2012, the center has increased the number of people served by 68% and doubled the number of residential group homes the organization owns and operates. The organization has 24 residents in its group home program and 33 people utilize its daily programs, Rutledge-May said.

The nonprofit has also been able to replace all of their older homes with larger residences in safer neighborhoods to provide better living arrangements for their clients. During this time, the substantial growth has led to 15 new jobs being added to the Newport community with additional direct support professionals still needing to be hired today for the group homes, Rutledge-May said.

“There has been a long-standing wait list in the state for individuals with IDD who need and want services. However, the funding wasn’t available. Over the past several years, the state legislation has worked hard to find additional revenue to eliminate the wait for those individuals. Next year, approximately 3,000 individuals who are currently on the wait list will be allowed to begin receiving services from a licensed DD provider, and ACI is poised to have the facilities to be able to serve some of those individuals. The new facility and additional group homes will allow ACI the opportunity to further expand by as much as 200% and add even more jobs to the community,” she said.