The Arc of Walton County: Strong Advocate for Individuals with Disabilities Is Reaching for the Stars
As she enters the room, you can’t help but recognize the passion and energy she exudes. You’d never guess it is often months before she’ll allow herself a day off. She loves her work, sees the opportunities available for her clients, and she is working hard to chase down each one.
Kim Lonas is the Executive Director of The Arc of Walton County, serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. She wears a number of hats, as do so many who work in the non-profit world. She is the grant writer, grant administrator, operations manager, building superintendent, legislative advocate, transportation coordinator, and more.
Despite the financial obstacles that continuously challenge the organization, Lonas’ vision for the organization sees beyond all of those hurdles to the possibilities. She and her incredible group of dedicated team members, just need some community support to get there.
Over the next five years, she is looking to secure reliable transportation, get a bakery off the ground, and start building a new residential group home.
“The needs are so great, but as we’re able to meet each need it is going to be a tremendous benefit to our clients with disabilities and their families,” says Lonas.
One of the greatest day-to-day needs facing the organization is reliable transportation to take clients back and forth to day training, job interviews, jobs, and doctor appointments.
“Each day we have to assess our transportation needs to see which vehicle we think can get us to our destination without breaking down,” says Lonas. “Lift vehicles are essential for us to be able to transport clients. We have two, but they are so old we rarely have them both operating at the same time. Because of their age it is hard to find parts and repair work is very expensive.”
While this is a daily challenge she knows the work she is doing brings value to the individuals she serves.
“To see the joy, the new skills learned, and the goals reached, is worth all of the challenges we face,” says Lonas.
She has two very big endeavors on the horizon in the coming months. One is to raise $100,000 by mid-December. The funds are needed for the underwriting expense of an approximately $375,000 grant from the Florida Housing Corporation to build a new residential group home. The other is to open a bakery to allow for job training, employment and social skill development for her clients.
“I’ve had the opportunity to train in three bakeries in Virginia, Georgia, and Maryland. The bakeries employ individuals with disabilities. I have talked to several local restaurants that are willing to give us a shot and purchase bread from us when we’re up and running,” says Lonas. “I have the business plan. We just need to find an adequate space to rent in DeFuniak Springs at a reasonable price and we have to raise the dollars to purchase the equipment. It is going to be an incredible opportunity for our clients.”
Lonas estimates the cost to get the bakery up and running will be between $175,000 and $200,000.
She has already seen how employing individuals with disabilities makes such a difference in their lives.
“We currently operate a wholesale and retail nursery in DeFuniak Springs, Arc Gardens,” says Lonas. “Our clients grow the plants, build planters, manage the nursery, and market it. They do a great job and the interaction they’ve had with the community has been wonderful. We hope to be able to become a source of plants for local builders. We’re happy to grow specific plants they need.”
While much of Lonas’ programs take place in DeFuniak Springs, she recognizes the need for programs in South Walton.
“I met with approximately 23 families in South Walton a few months ago. We need to get some day training programs on the south end of the county,” says Lonas. “We just need to find some space that can accommodate a couple of training rooms at an affordable cost. I want to help all our Walton County individuals with disabilities, we just need some more resources to meet the need.”
The Arc of Walton County welcomes visitors to stop by and learn more about their programs. The Arc Gardens, day training programs, and the administrative office are located in DeFuniak Springs on Highway 83. Their website is currently under construction but they can be reached on Facebook or call Kim at 850.892.5013.