First Sweetheart Gala is a resounding success

Mar. 1—It was a special evening Friday when the ARC of Haywood County hosted its first Sweetheart Gala, a prom-like event for those in the special needs community.

Todd Barbee, executive director of ARC, said upon learning the churches that had sponsored Tim Tebow's Night to Shine event locally since 2019 weren't participating this year, the ARC staff decided to do something similar on their own.

"We have events throughout the year, but wanted to make this one special," he said. "Youth from First United Methodist Church, Waynesville (where the event was held,) served as waiters and decorated it a lot. We had a red carpet and there was a lot of dancing."

While ARC directly serves 60 clients in its group homes and through its outreach programs that help individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) live more independently, the Sweetheart Gala was thrown open to the entire special needs community, Barbee said.

He said ARC ordered food for 150 gala honorees who came with their family or caregivers and the food was "all but gone." He estimated about 40-45 people not directly affiliated with ARC attended the event.

Barbee worked with special needs students and served as a principal in the Haywood County school system before being hired to lead ARC.

"I had no idea what ARC did before that," Barbee said. "We want to get the word out to the IDD community that we're a resource for them. We want them to know there is help out there."

What is ARC?

In addition to operating four group homes in the county that provides housing for 22 individuals, ARC has a community living outreach program that helps lower-functioning adults live independently. The organization also runs a supportive employment program that assists individuals.

"A lot of times, people get out of school and need a little bit of extra help," he said. "We can help with resumes, budgeting and obstacles that could hinder the ability to work."

Some of the ARC clients have little family help, and some depend entirely on the state for assistance. The organization receives Medicaid funding to help its client base.

"When I hear it being discussed that Medicaid is on the chopping block, I worry about that," Barbee said. "The wages for our workers have increased drastically and they should. They do a very important and very tough job."

The whole idea behind ARC is to assist special needs individuals in any way possible.

"We want our clients and the rest of IDD community to live a life just like everyone else," Barbee said. "We want them to work, go on vacations, go camping and live as normal of a life as possible."