spring lake memorial classic family

Walking and Running with The Arc Nature Coast

By Diane Bedard Posted on May 3, 2023

In the 1950s, if you had a child with an intellectual or development disability, that child would likely be sent to an institution for their entire life. There were virtually no programs or activities to assist in the development and care of people with IDD or to support their families.

Parent groups from around the U.S., whose members had children within this population, gathered in Minneapolis, MN, to organize The Arc. It became the first organization to invest money into research on intellectual and developmental disabilities, including the cause. They also began advocating the U.S. Congress to research IDD. Their message was clear: our children are good people who need support to thrive. Together we can make a difference.

In the 1970s, the large institutions that housed those with IDDs were shut down. As a nation, we made the investment of providing somewhat individualized care in more family-like environments.

Getting to Know those with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

If you have ever met a person with IDD, you may understand that that person is valuable and can contribute to a better world. I mean, what is the value of kindness, concern, pride in accomplishment, a smile?

“Intellectually and Developmentally Disabled people tend to be steady and stable,” Mark W. Barry, Executive Director of The Arc of the Nature Coast explains, “They have intellectual instead of psychiatric challenges.”

The Arc is the nation’s largest community-based organization advocating for and with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities with over 600 chapters. Mark W. Barry has worked tirelessly with local, state, and national chapters. Image by Diane Bedard.

Up to today, and into tomorrow, The Arc is the largest national community-based organization advocating for and with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and serving them and their families. The are over 600 chapters throughout our country. Our local chapter is The Arc Nature Coast, and it serves more than 230 individuals and their families each year from 17 staffed locations in Hernando, Pasco and Sumter Counties.

The Arc Nature Coast began in the 1970’s in Spring Lake

During the 1970s, The Arc Nature Coast began in Spring Lake, acquiring a beautiful 30-acre parcel on Neff Lake Road in East Hernando County. Although it was originally used as a chicken farm in the 1950’s, the farmhouse and chicken run were renovated in the mid 70’s. It has been used by The Arc Nature Coast as enrichment and day services ever since.

Mark Barry, Executive Director, and Nancy Stubbs, Development Director of The Arc Nature Coast (2019) standing in front of the recently demolished enrichment facility that was originally a farm building. There are exciting plans to replace it with a modern facility that will ease the caretakers jobs and improve the services provided. Image by Diane Bedard

The campus at Spring Lake is beautiful, with four group homes for residents and great day services, or enrichment program that operates out of a renovated chicken coop. Another building that formerly housed the enrichment services was razed this year to make room for a modern, efficient Enrichment Center on the property.

Mark and Nancy discussed their vision for the Neff Lake property.

Nancy and Mark share the plans for the Neff Lake Campus Enrichment Center. Image by Diane Bedard.

Pasco, Hernando and Sumter Counties Arc Chapters join Forces

Mark began his career with The Arc of Pasco County before they merged with The Arc Nature Coast. He applied for his job in the very building in Shady Hills that now houses the service support center. “We had to remodel this building for our staff, and I wanted each employee office to have a window,” he shares.

There is a group home behind the support services building and several cars and a bus that are used to transport the population they serve. “You would be amazed at the variety of transportation needs,” Nancy says, “It’s a lot more than doctor visits.”

On one bus is an image of Dr. Martin Luther King with a quote. Each year, the Arc program participants join in the Martin Luther King Day of Service. One year I got to write about their help in an east Pasco food pantry.

The Arc Nature Coast service support center offices have moved to Little Ranch Road in the Shady Hills area. Image by Diane Bedard.

Neff Lake Campus of The Arc Seeks to Provide More through its Capital Campaign

“A safe and comfortable home, days that are meaningful, and being a part of our community; these are things we all value and strive to achieve. Our vision for the Neff Lake site is to create this experience for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, those that have challenging needs and rely on a high degree of support,” Nancy shares.

The Neff Lake location provides a park-like setting that is naturally soothing, calming, and therapeutic to those who attend the Arc’s day programs. However, the enrichment facilities were not designed for their current use, are truly outdated in terms of usability, and are now in dire need of replacement.

The Giving Tree is part of The Arc's current Capital Campaign.
Nancy showed me the Giving Tree in her Neff Lake office, 2019, when the Capital Campaign was begun. Image by Diane Bedard.

So, a capital campaign was begun in 2019… and then COVID struck. The needs of the IDD community did not shrink and the cost of everything went up. So today, Nancy and Mark are showing off the updated plans for the Neff Lake Enrichment Center. “We had to make some changes to keep it within budget range and now we need donations for furniture and such,” Mark says as he explains the cuts they had to make.

Several specialized residential homes are planned as part of this capital campaign, but today The Arc is focusing on its enrichment facilities designed specifically to meet the needs of their clients and their families. If you feel led to contribute, click here for details or call 727-619-0694.

Originally, $1.5 million was planned for the four additional residential facilities and $1.5 million for demolishing and replacing the existing enrichment facility, with funds received from the Florida Housing Finance Program, as well as various infrastructure improvements to the property.

Four specialized residential homes have been completed, housing 24 residents, and are located adjacent to the Enrichment Center campus.

“We have completed a comprehensive plan for the Neff Lake Campus that has been approved by Hernando County to accomplish this, Mark explains, “but building material costs keep rising, so we are writing grants, and seeking help from residents and businesses who can contribute.”

Contribute to The Arc Nature Coast by Participating in the Spring Lake Memorial Challenge May 27

One of The Arc Nature Coast’s most popular fundraisers is the Spring Lake Memorial Challenge. This year it will be held May 27. Come out and see the Neff Lake campus.

This 10k/5k/2mile run started in 2007, and it has grown tremendously, with racers coming from all over to compete on the challenging course that goes up and down hills, through the beautiful countryside of this remote east Hernando area.

spring lake
The hills in Spring Lake, outside the Neff Lake campus of The Arc Nature Coast are tough. Image by Diane Bedard.

The majestic trees and peaceful setting of this area can fool you but be aware that these are some of the toughest hills in Florida! All three courses take participants along shaded, tree-draped roads and over some very challenging hills.

Registration begins at 6:30 a.m. The 10K race starts at 7:30, 5K at 7:40 and the 2 Mile Fun Run/Walk begins at 7:45 a.m. Prizes are awarded to first, second and third place finishers in various age groups. The entry fee is $35.00 for the 10K (a.k.a. Neff Lake Monster), $30.00 for the 5K and $25.00 for the 2 Mile Fun Run/Walk. Register here!

The entry fee increases by $5.00 per race on the day of the event, and event T-shirts are guaranteed to all those who register by May 15th.

spring lake memorial challenge completed

From the Physically Fit to the Slow but Steady, everyone has a Good Time

Race proceeds benefit individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities served by The Arc Nature Coast. The funds are traditionally used to fund scholarships for individuals who are on the Medicaid Waiver wait list but need services before they are approved, such as life skills development, employment, transportation and community access.

I have participated in the 2 mile walk twice and am looking forward to my third time. There is a vibrant, joyful energy at this event, and it is hard – just walking up the hill to achieve the 2-mile walk is a challenge for me.

I think about what kind of challenge it would be to think a little more slowly than the norm and want to find a useful place in this world, and how I would need encouragement and guidance to achieve my goals. I suck it up and put one foot in front of the other, stop for a drink at the rest station, and soldier on, remembering how blessed I am to be able to contribute in my own way.

Will you join me?

The Arc Nature Coast
Starting and finishing at The Arc Nature Coast’s Neff Lake Campus, volunteers help make the event great! Image by Diane Bedard.



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