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LARC event helps to keep doors open

Anniversary raises vital funds for Los Angeles Retarded Citizens ranch

Posted: October 7, 2009 10:38 p.m.
Updated: October 8, 2009 4:55 a.m.

The band had guests and residents on the dance floor throughout the event, which raised more than $300,000 for LARC Ranch's operational budget, which has recently suffered permanent funding cuts.

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It was a foot-stomping good time at the recent Los Angeles Retarded Citizens' Foundation Ranch 50th Anniversary fundraiser.

Over 500 guests were in attendance to celebrate the milestone event for the nonprofit organization as the largest facility serving developmentally disabled adults in the Santa Clarita Valley since 1959.

The 65-acre Saugus ranch was a picture of festivity, offering guests an abundant buffet-style lunch of In-N-Out burgers, hot dogs and desserts.

The treat for the taste buds was met by a beat for the feet during the live musical performances of The Tom Nolan Orchestra during their ‘Swinging to the Fifties' concert.

"This was a great day and it was wonderful to see everyone having so much fun together," said Kathleen Sturkey, LARC Ranch executive director. "We loved having so many individuals from the community come and participate. The atmosphere was very supportive."

Many of the ranch's 105 residents were on hand to greet loved ones and welcome visitors to the place they call home.

As a selection of familiar 1950's classics rang through the massive tented area, residents joined guests on the dance floor to Tom Nolan's smooth vocal stylings.

Nolan was accompanied by vocalist Jade, David Hoyt on guitar, David Brown on bass, Scott Hitchings on keyboard, Eric Meeks on drums, Victor Cisneros on saxophone, Evan Avery on trumpet and Jose Arellano on trombone.

The regular performers at Rusty's on the Santa Monica Pier entertained the audience with their mix of soul covers and upbeat rock renditions.

"This was my favorite part of the day," said three-year ranch resident, Brandon Sherwood, 29. "I like to dance, especially with new friends. That's the best part!"

But it takes two to tango.

Recipients of the 2009 Miss SCV Scholarship Program didn't miss a step when Sherwood grooved by them.

"I had fun dancing out there - we didn't stop," said Miss Valencia, Melissa Perlstein, 21. "This is a really amazing experience and it's nice to see how everyone is so happy."

Jenny Shields, 39, has been a ranch resident for the past six years, but is also known as sister, sister-in-law and aunt to the eight family members who came to support the event.

"It always warms my heart to come out and see how happy she is here," said sister, Kelly Shields. "She is so well taken care of and I feel like she's really given a chance to live. I am so thankful for this ranch."

Some guests relaxed on the spacious grounds, while others chose to explore them during tours of the ranch's home-style environment, which boasts 13 self-contained residences in a villa community.

The 2,900 square foot villas were built in 2001 to accommodate the individualized needs of residents ages 18-59, as well as elderly residents 60 and older.

Fully equipped with laundry amenities, dishwashers, microwave ovens and entertainment centers, the four bedroom villas also include the supervision of trained residential care staff.

Doors were open wide for guests to walk through and view the ranch's recreational facilities such as indoor swimming pool, auditorium, gymnasium, sports park and picnic area.

The event reflected the ranch's goal to increase recreation and socialization skills among its residents.

"It is remarkable to see their improvements on a daily basis," said Denise Bennett, LARC Ranch adult residential administrator.

Bennett has witnessed a noticeable difference in recipient, Ray Crouse, 40, who has lived at the ranch for half of his life.

For the past 20 years, Crouse has received developmental enrichment training through the ranch's Adult Development Center.

The center is offered with the goal to tap into participants' individual skill levels in order to enhance and maintain intellectual, physical, emotional and social well-being.

"By practicing the act of doing laundry and helping with meal preparation, he's learned to be so independent and social," said Bennett. "We promote and support the teaching of these skills that make a big difference. All changes that occur are important and when you see one happening, everything is worthwhile. That is the reason why I'm here."

The ranch's programs cater to participants' special needs such as autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and mild to severe mental retardation, among others.

In addition to providing higher levels of assistance to those who need it, the ranch's residential and day programs also include the Day Training Activity Center, for residents who exhibit skill levels conducive to entering the workforce.

For higher functioning developmentally disabled adults, LARC also operates a home located in Newhall.

The ranch offers recreational activities such as bingo, karaoke, craft projects and community outings of shopping, bowling, dining out or taking in a movie.

"These outings are really important to teaching socialization," said Sturkey.

The ranch also expands horizons through their travel club and affiliation with Special Olympics programs.

"An active lifestyle leads to a healthier lifestyle," said Sturkey. "This concept is promoted in all that we do."

Dance lessons offered by the ranch came in handy on the day of the event and attendees were privy to a special musical moment when 19-year-old trumpet player Elliot Prichard took to the stage.

The Canyon Country resident lives with autism but has never skipped a beat when it comes to making his dreams come true.

"I've played the trumpet since I was nine years old," said Prichard. "And I feel like I can do anything I want to if I work hard enough at it."

Nolan invited Prichard to join the renowned orchestra on stage and belt out a noteworthy performance alongside the band's brass section. Notes of inspiration floated through the light-filled tent, where Prichard's long-time friend, ranch resident, George Hoffman was present.

"I wanted to come and support him where he lives," said Prichard. "It's been a really good day."

The event raised more than $300,000 for the ranch. Funds will directly benefit the ranch's operational budget, which has severely diminished in recent months due to permanent funding cuts, with more looming ahead.

In order to make ends meet, the ranch has cut back hours of operation from residential and day programs, as well as a variety of necessities from their daily budget.

"Right now, it's really about trying to keep our doors open," said Sturkey. "We are so grateful for our friends."

For more information on LARC Ranch, visit larcfoundation.org or call (661) 296-8636 x 232.

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