During a day program for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in central Fresno, 89-year-old Pat Kourafas lovingly wraps an arm around a man scooting down a hallway with a walker and a big smile.
The man is a client of The Arc of Fresno and Madera Counties. Kourafas has been supporting the facility – and other similar organizations in the central San Joaquin Valley that help people with special needs – since 1957, when she and a group of seven other women founded Larcs.
Club leaders say Larcs is the only group of its kind in the Fresno area devoted solely devoted to helping those with disabilities, a portion of the population often overlooked and in need of more support.
Today, the women’s club has 135 members, about 40 of them active, and has raised nearly $2 million for special needs programs – a milestone they will surpass at an Oct. 3 fundraiser.
“It’s an impossible dream,” Kourafas says of their accomplishments. “We never ever dreamt that it would be like it is now.”
The idea for the club came from one of Kourafas’ friends, whose son had an intellectual disability.
“When we first started, they would lock these children up,” says Larcs’ president-elect, Mary Howard. “It’s become that they are being treated as regular, normal students and adults, and this is how we can feel so proud, that we have given money to help them be in our society.”
Over the years, Larcs has donated to The Arc, which serves 125 adults with disabilities on weekdays and is mostly funded through the California Department of Developmental Services.
“Their support has been immeasurable to our success,” says Lori Ramirez, Arc’s executive director, about the club. “If it wasn’t for them, we would struggle because state funding has been cut for the last 15 years. We barely get by sometimes.”
Larcs donations have purchased a number of things for The Arc: a van, special medical “comfy” chairs, yard equipment, computers, iPads, and equipment for a sensory room (a dark room with special lights that helps soothe clients or stimulates those who are lethargic from medication), and funded the development of a small backyard park. They’ve also bought items for a “discovery home,” a transition house where some clients learn to live on their own, doing things such as cooking, cleaning and paying bills.
The father of one girl who attends The Arc recently thanked Larcs for the iPads. His daughter, who has trouble talking, can now point to images on the electronic device to help her communicate instead of crying or yelling.
The ladies of Larcs are excited to keep helping make these kind of breakthroughs possible.
A lot has changed since 1957, including Larcs, originally an acronym for Ladies Aid for Retarded Children, and later, Citizens. In 2009, they lost the acronym and officially changed their name to Larcs of Fresno Inc., keeping their signature image of a lark bird.
“When you think about the perceptions of people with special needs from the 1950s to now, it’s night and day, it’s totally different, but we’ve still got a way to go,” says Larcs’ president. Jan Zoller.
“These people have so much potential, they just need a little bit more support than other people so that they can have meaning to their lives, too. And that’s what we want to help them do.”
How to help
- Larcs “Bundles” fundraiser features lunch by Pardini’s Catering and Banquets and homemade foods and items for purchase from local artisans and vendors
- 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
- Saturday, Oct. 3
- At the home of Jim and Terran Ashjian, 5560 N. Forkner Ave.
- Tickets: $30, through Oct. 2, available at larcfresno.org
- Year-round, people can also order homemade items from Larcs online, treats that include red pepper onion relish, peach jam and bread and butter pickles