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St. John A.R.C. building nears completion

LAPLACE – When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closing of the St. John A.R.C. and other day development centers across the country back in March, mentally disabled adults lost a safe place to land. Once conditions are deemed safe for a reopening, the clients at the St. John A.R.C. will be welcomed back with an exciting new addition designed to meet their needs and make them feel right at home.

At nearly 10,000 square feet, the new $2 million building at 101 Bamboo Road in LaPlace will provide ample space for clients to participate in vocational training and attend special events. Board of Directors president Joel Ocmand has stated that the expansion has been in the works for several years, while the need for extra space has been around for much longer.

Day Development Director Linda Lambert said the expansion, estimated for completion by the end of January 2021, is the culmination of approximately 25 years of savings.

“It’s going to be a big work area for the clients and a big cafeteria with a couple of classrooms in the front. It’s going to enlarge our space so we can take on more clients. Currently, we have 66,” Lambert said.

She added that the St. John A.R.C. Day Development Program gives mentally disabled adults a sense of purpose. Based on their skill level, many are connected to local employment opportunities including office, retail and janitorial positions. Those who are unable to work learn life skills and complete crafts, puzzles and other activities. The classrooms on Bamboo Road are not only a place for learning and training, but also rest and relaxation.

The need for space is especially important because many clients have wheelchairs or walkers and need room to spread out. The large cafeteria in the new building will also be great for group activities and uplifting events such as the annual Mardi Gras ball.

“We’ve worked long and hard to get this addition,” Lambert said. “We’ve spent a lot of years saving money so that we could have a bigger and nicer place for clients to be able to come and just be safe and off the streets. We have a lot of clients who, if they are not here, would be on the street. It’s just a place that their parents, siblings or whoever they are living with will know that they are safe.”

The new building is difficult to miss. With a bright blue and orange color scheme, it easily stands out from the surrounding structures in the neighborhood. Architect Craig Hebert came up with the design after spending time with a developmentally disabled adult. He learned that many of the A.R.C. clients, especially those with autism, respond well to shapes and bold colors, and he wanted the building to be representative of the people it will serve.

“I think he did a wonderful job,” Lambert said. “He had (the clients) in mind the whole time, so he really based it on what they would like.”

The St. John A.R.C. and its clients have many community supporters, according to Lambert. Some donate craft supplies to the center, while others volunteer to teach the clients life skills. Some have held cooking demonstrations for clients, while another local group taught clients how to make sleeping mats for the homeless out of paper bags. When Mardi Gras season rolls around, neighbors donate dresses and formalwear for clients to look spiffy on their big day.

Lambert is eager to welcome clients back to the A.R.C., and she looks forward to welcoming the community into the new building in 2021.

“We want to have a big open house whenever we open back up so the community can come and look at it,” Lambert said. “The community has blessed us with the millage, and that’s what keeps us going. We want them to see where the money has gone, and it’s going to be gorgeous.”