A Work of Arc: Recycling New Orleans' Culture

In New Orleans, it's not unusual to find yourself ankle deep in beads anytime leading up to, during, and after Mardi Gras. The flamboyant and fun festival dumps 25 million pounds of plastic beads on the streets of the city every year. Mardi Gras beads, or "throws" as you'll learn to call them, are a shiny trinket to some. For others, beads are synonymous with a consumer culture based on waste and overindulgence. For the ArcGNO organization in New Orleans, they represent an opportunity for many people to live life at their fullest potential. 

Last Saturday, I didn't know what I was getting myself into when I signed up to sort beads at Arc. When I arrived, I realized that the organization had made incredible strides in promoting equality, hope and community in the surrounding areas. The purpose of Arc is "to create a community that advocates for the inclusion and acceptance of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities through education, awareness, involvement, and education of families, employees, neighbors, throughout the Greater New Orleans area". What started as a group of concerned parents in 1953 evolved to a fully functioning business that offers working opportunities to people affected by mental retardation and related developmental disabilities. 

Arc provides services for people of all ages beginning with their EarlySteps program, which is just one of the Family Service Coordination programs that are offered. These coordinators are integral in assessing the needs of the child and identifying the next steps for their development. The goal is to give parents all the information that could be needed so that they may make the most informed decision for the best way to help their child. I had the chance to speak to a volunteer who said, "I volunteer at Arc as often as I can. I utilized their EarlySteps program and it made all the difference in knowing what my child needed."

For adults, the Arc is just as providing for a variety of needs including residential, employment and day services. Supported living and personal care services are offered for the intention of preventing the need for institutionalization. Additionally, these give individuals an opportunity to engage in social activities that are outside the home. What I found most admirable is the employment opportunities. Arc employees are paid a wage, receive benefits, and work in the Bead Store. Where most wouldn't be able to find a job in the regular community, Arc is open to allowing people to reach their full potential by working as a fully integrated member of the community. 

The three hours that I was sorting beads flew by with the help of fun music, lots of friends and a bit of caffeine (arguably, not enough). What impacted me the most was another individual I met who told me about her experience at Arc. "I was worried to death that my daughter would never have a chance to live her own life. The stigma against mental disability is so prevalent, but Arc lets me see her happy and fulfilled," she said.

If you ever need to do community service for an organization or just feel like helping out, I would highly recommend doing it with ArcGNO. Additionally, next time you need any type of Mardi Gras bead, visit their store! From Krewe to pearl to short to long, their store is stocked with thousands of beads for sale. 100% recycled, 100% for the good of the community.