Celebration salutes Group Living’s service to community

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published September 26, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated September 25, 2013 at 6:41 p.m.
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Hannah Keller

From the left, state Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia; Jane Lucas, executive director of Group Living Inc.; Todd Lucas, director of development at Group Living Inc.; and state Rep. Richard Womack, R-Arkadelphia, enjoy Group Living’s 40th-anniversary celebration in Arkadelphia.

ARKADELPHIA — Lively music, a colorful atmosphere and good food provided the setting for a tribute to one of Arkadelphia’s prominent institutions, Group Living, a nonprofit organization that aids people with developmental disabilities.

This year, the city’s residents joined in to celebrate Group Living’s 40 years of service to Clark County. A birthday party for the organization was held Saturday at the Honeycomb Restaurant and Bakery on Main Street that is operated by Group Living.

“I live downtown, and Group Living is the cornerstone of our downtown community,” said Elaine Kneebone, general counsel for Henderson State University, who attended the celebration. “Who knows how many people’s lived they have touched and made better?”

The night also recognized the accomplishments of Jane Lucas, who has been executive director since the second year of Group Living’s existence.

“I went to work with Group Living in April 1973 when I got out of college just a few months after it had started,” Lucas said. “In June 1974, the director told me she was leaving, and she had recommended me for the position. I couldn’t speak.”

Lucas attributes the four decades of success at Group Living to a “strong staff, a wonderful board of directors and a team of dedicated volunteers.” Meanwhile, she deflects comments that she is the key to the organization’s success in service.

“I remember years ago when Jane came to the First United Methodist Church in Amity, where she and I were both members, and she shared with us her vision of Group Living,” said Vickie Egleston, who is a manager of the Iron Mountain Lodge and Marina on DeGray Lake. “A lot of us decided on the spot to help, but none of us knew what all it would become.”

Lucas said she could not have pictured the success of Group Living or of having a night like the gala celebration.

“Heavens no,” she said. “We started when new laws allowed many residents of state institutions to be released and come home.

“There were a lot of vulnerable people going into community programs. They needed a lot of help but did not require institutionalization.”

Group Living allowed its clients to live in a less-restrictive setting within the community, she said.

“We used to control people, but now we just support people,” she said. “This makes their lives easier and our work easier.”

With assistance from Group Living, those needing help found homes, and some became homeowners, but they also needed jobs. Under Lucas’ management, jobs were created by Group Living, and today those jobs help support the program.

“They had great skills and a desire to work, but they didn’t have the social skills to be in the workplace,” she said.

Group Living worked to provide some of those skills.

“It was about learning to punch a time clock, interacting with people and keeping your hands to yourself,” Lucas said. “If they can fix those little things in their life, they can improve their quality of life and how they are treated by other people.”

The organization already ran a thrift shop known as the Beehive, which employed some of their clients. Then a local doughnut shop closed, and Lucas saw an opportunity.

“We opened the Honeycomb Restaurant in March 1995 with fresh breads and salads to create jobs for the people we serve,” she said.

Later, Group Living also opened a cleaning service, providing services to homes and businesses in Arkadelphia and creating another job market for the people who are served by the organization.

“Jobs are hard to find for our people, with all the college kids in town,” Lucas said, “so we create jobs by starting our own businesses. These people love their jobs; they come to work with a smile on their faces.”

The 40th-birthday party for Group Living was held in the restaurant. Todd Lucas, who manages the restaurant and is development director of the organization, said the food was prepared by their employees/clients and volunteers who help supervise.

“It was a lot of work, and we needed a lot of help, but it turned out well,” he said.

Todd said he was especially proud to serve beers specially brewed for the the evening’s guests.

Kendal Land, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Arkadelphia and an amateur brewer, created Beehive Brown and Back 40 Ale for the celebration.

“Todd asked me to make some as a fundraiser,” Land said. “The Back 40 is, of course, the 40th year and because I grew the hops in my backyard.”

Funds were also raised in a silent auction that featured prizes such as original artworks from local artists and vacation packages that included the Dallas Cowboy Experience, with tickets and sideline passes for an NFL game in Dallas.

Among the participants that night were Henderson State University President Glendell Jones.

“Jane Lucas and this organization have always been friends of Henderson State,” Jones said, “and Group Living is a model of community service, not only in Arkansas but for the entire nation.”

Lucas said the event was wonderful and exciting and an opportunity to highlight the work of the people the organization serves, as well as the contributions of staff and volunteers who give their time and energy to make Group Living successful.

The celebration of Group Living’s 40 years of service will continue in November with a street party in downtown Arkadelphia geared toward children, Lucas said.

For more information about Group Living, call (870) 246-5849 or visit www.group

living.org.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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