LANSING, Ill. (July 26, 2023) – LARC has a new vision for its 16,000-square-foot facility located at 19043 Wentworth Avenue in Lansing. LARC’s plan for future renovations may take up to 10 years to realize and may cost approximately $2 million. The intent is to overhaul the capacious warehouse building complex in order to facilitate LARC’s new model of providing services, support, and recreation that promote in-community employment and community integration for the individuals they serve.
LARC is a private, not-for-profit, community-service organization that provides service and support for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. According to their website, in LARC’s Community Day Services Program, individuals learn vocational skills, functional academics, self-care, gross and fine motor skill enhancement, and communication skills. Job training offers them an opportunity to become skilled workers through community work crews and individual job placements.
Much of LARC’s current warehouse space had previously been used for what is called “sheltered workshop,” where clients would perform piece-rate work for outside companies, often at sub-minimum wages. That type of segregated warehouse production is no longer a part of LARC’s model of services.
Time for change: From segregated services to community integration
LARC Executive Director Ernie Gonzalez explained how the decision to renovate came about:
“Traditionally, LARC — in a program like a lot of other agencies or providers who service or support adults with intellectual developmental disabilities — provided what they call a sheltered workshop, where once [individuals] would finish school, they would come to these agencies, and [sheltered workshop] would be their way of earning a paycheck…. Over the last probably 15 years or so, the industry has been slowly moving away from that model. Illinois is probably one of the last — if not the last state — to make that transition.
“CMS [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] sent down some guidelines in 2014, where they said to states, they wanted this industry to move away from segregated services to more community-integrated services. There are things that they require that say individuals in programs like this should have the right to access community resources to live a life essentially like yours and mine, and not just be in a building from graduation to a grave.
“States are slowly coming along to what that looks like. And so there are states that have eliminated the use of sheltered work; there are states that have eliminated the amount of hours that people can spend in the sheltered workshop; and there are states that have eliminated sub-minimum wage.
“And so, Bonnie [Gronendyke, LARC Senior Director of Operations] and I came the same year — 2017 — and decided we needed to move if the state wasn’t moving. When the pandemic hit … we decided if the people or companies who would contract with us to do that piece-rate work were willing to reimburse us at a rate that would allow us to pay our individuals minimum wage, then we would entertain that. And I had a couple of discussions with those organizations, and they understood where we were coming from. But they said essentially if we’re going to pay someone minimum wage to do that, we have to make sure that their production rate makes it cost effective for us. And so our individuals were not able to do some of what would need to be done, so they’ve gone elsewhere.
“There are some agencies that are still doing that piece-rate work, but we’re not. So we took a look at our building, and said, Ok, what do we need to do to this building because it’s pretty much a warehouse set-up in the back.”
In 2022, LARC commissioned JMA Architects to design a proposed floor plan reconfiguration schematic. In it, the warehouse spaces are converted to a culinary arts kitchen, a music area, an art area, a technology area, a fitness center, and a sensory area. The plan includes renovations to the currently unused warehouse spaces.
Accessible Resource Center and Hub
Senior Director of Operations Bonnie Gronendyke shared LARC’s vision of the future at the renovated LARC facility:
“We’re not doing production anymore. That’s not our model of service delivery. …It’s service delivery with this population; this would all be conducive to people who are working in the community, and we would be a hub for where they would be coming. Maybe they live with their parents, and their parents need to get to work earlier than they do, so they could come here at maybe 7:00 in the morning and stay for a couple of hours until they go to work and come back in the afternoon if they need to. And there would be programs that would be the types of things that most of us are interested in — music, art, culinary arts….
“Maybe some individuals are now retired, and they are no longer working in the community, but they would still need services during the daytime because it wouldn’t be safe to stay home alone. Or individuals that are at a higher need of support during the daytime and are not employed. That would be where our sensory program and our senior program would come in. That would be a daytime activity.
“But the vision is to have developing [services] open from early in the morning to say 8:00 at night, where people are coming and going all day long — people who are receiving services from job developers to help them get jobs in the community. We would also have a technology area so they can come, and [we’ll] help them apply for jobs, talk to them about jobs, create resumes.
“The goal is for [clients] to refine the skills necessary to be able to go out into the community and get a job. We [currently] have a job contract with Pour on Roy, for example. We have two people with a job coach that go and clean their restaurant every week — every Tuesday morning. They also clean some parking lots in the downtown Lansing area.
“So we’re looking at being a hub…. The entire facility would be open to the public throughout the day, networking with the community and allowing a music teacher to use our facility for music therapy or recreation…. Maybe we would have somebody who is a culinary arts student somewhere, and they want to provide some classes, and they could utilize our space in the evening; they could hold a class…maybe LARC receives a little bit of the profit, and they receive a little of the profit. So it generates a revenue that is not government to begin that revenue stream. And potentially to have a cafe onsite, where individuals would be working a regular minimum wage job with training and skills, but that also provides for people who are coming and going. To make it as much of a resource center that would emulate what anybody else would be participating in in the community, but also making sure that it is accessible and that there are support services on site anytime that’s needed.
“The [new areas in the renovation plan] give them the tools to train. We all know that these types of recreational activities mold who we are, they help us to develop social skills, they help us to develop self-esteem, so it’s not just training on a specific thing; it’s building a person. The same way as we do in our high schools where students are involved in different areas so they can discover their own abilities.
“Some of the regulations from the Center of Medicaid and Medicare Services are all about community integration — individuals having access to interact with non-disabled people. So having this as a kind of community center, this would provide that.”
LARC Executive Director Ernie Gonzalez addressed funding for the renovation:
“So looking as an organization, how do we fund this? One of things we’re exploring right now is a capital campaign. Our finance committee is also going to look at the financing piece of it. We have a development director who looks at grants — opportunities to see if there are foundations out there supporting these kinds of things. So we may have to do it in stages. As Bonnie says, it may be ten years down the road before it’s all finished.”
LARC paves pathways through individualized supports and services so people with intellectual and developmental disabilities can experience a self-directed lifestyle. Their building is located at 19043 Wentworth Avenue in Lansing.
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