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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, July 22, 2004

Group marks 50 years of service

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Health Writer

The Arc in Hawaii tonight celebrates 50 years of providing community care and homes to children and adults with mental retardation.


Arc in Hawaii began in 1954 as the Hawaii Association for Retarded Citizens and now provides homes, apartments and day centers serving about 300 people with mental retardation.

• Event: Silent auction, dinner buffet, drinks and entertainment

• When: From 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. tonight at Treetops at Paradise Park Restaurant in Manoa.

• What: Fund-raiser, tickets cost $50, $35 of which is tax deductible.

• How: Tickets can be purchased at the door or by calling Arc at 737-7995 ext. 18.

Longtime advocate and Arc board member Lambert Wai, 83, can tell you what it has been like for the past 48 years. He remembers when the organization consisted of a room rented from a church on Kina'u Street and has seen it grow to more than 20 facilities in Honolulu, Kailua, Wahiawa, Pearl City, 'Ewa Beach and Waipahu.

The non-profit organization runs 17 single-family homes, four apartment buildings and four day centers, helping to provide homes, activities and volunteer work throughout the community for adults with mental retardation.

Wai's devotion starts close to his heart. One of his daughters, Faith, lives in an Arc home. "She is profoundly retarded, but because of the kind of care she gets in the home she's quite happy," Wai said. "She wasn't expected to live beyond 15, and she just made 51."

Of all those who make up the mentally retarded community, Wai said only 1.5 percent are profoundly affected, and 3.5 percent severely. But he estimates that about 20 percent of the 300 Arc's clients fall into those challenging categories because the organization has developed a reputation for caring for that community.

Wai said Faith thrives in her own routine. "She's blind and she can't talk. Most of her enjoyment comes from being around people."

Arc, once known as the Association for Retarded Citizens in Hawai'i, was started by a group of families that wanted more for their children than life in an institution. Wai remembers when the state-run Waimano Home provided the only alternative to home care for most families.

Wai said he and his wife visited Waimano as an option for daughter Faith but saw little for the clients to do.

"We would see them sitting around all sedated doing nothing," he said. "My wife said there was no way she was going to put our child there."

In the early years, the organization concentrated on children because few with mental retardation lived beyond age 25.

With medical improvements and government regulation requiring educational opportunities, the agency's focus shifted to adults.

"I can tell you it's no easy chore," Wai said. But he said the organization has grown in strength after some big challenges in the past two years, when it was forced to close several homes and hire a new top executive.

Arc executive director Stephen Kula joined the organization early last year shortly after the federal government had ended Medicaid payments to some facilities after inspectors found some alarming living conditions.

Wai said Kula has helped lead the organization into a more stable period after closing seven homes for various reasons.

Kula said the organization has been surveyed by government regulators in the past year with good results and divested itself of homes on Kaua'i and O'ahu. Internally, he said, the staff turnover has gone down and workers were given a raise and better benefits. "We're well on our way to recovery," Kula said.

Kula said the organization is breaking even on cash flow but still losing about $300,000 a year overall. "We're getting enough money to meet all of our expenses, but we're not putting anything away for a rainy day."

Wai remembers when people insisted that former residents of Waimano Home could never leave that institution. Now, he sees many of them living in the homes, going to the malls, eating lunch. "They're waving at me, they're calling me by name. They're happy. That keeps me going."

Reach Robbie Dingeman at rdingeman@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2429.