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A safe haven is in need of help

LARC Ranch in Saugus hosts fundraiser Sept. 13

Posted: September 5, 2009 2:22 p.m.
Updated: September 6, 2009 4:55 a.m.
A LARC Ranch resident in Saugus enjoys a frozen dipped banana during the annual fundraiser held in September 2008 at the ranch. LARC Ranch celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, but state funding cuts putting services at risk. A LARC Ranch resident in Saugus enjoys a frozen dipped banana during the annual fundraiser held in September 2008 at the ranch. LARC Ranch celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, but state funding cuts putting services at risk.
A LARC Ranch resident in Saugus enjoys a frozen dipped banana during the annual fundraiser held in September 2008 at the ranch. LARC Ranch celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, but state funding cuts putting services at risk.

Los Angeles Retarded Citizens' Foundation, LARC Ranch invites community members to join in some ranch-style fun during its annual fundraiser at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 13.

The local nonprofit organization is celebrating its 50th anniversary as the largest facility offering adult day care and long-term services for developmentally disabled citizens in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Founded in 1959, the ranch stays steadfast in its mission to help challenged individuals thrive by continuing to offer a variety of programs and services geared to teach socialization skills and life training to its residents.

Sprawled on 65 acres of land at the foothills of the Angeles National Forest in Saugus, the ranch will open its doors to the public for the afternoon affair.

The festivities will be held under a large tent set up amidst the green lawn of the ranch, where a catered lunch buffet will be served. Guests will enjoy take-out in a whole new way while feasting on In-N-Out burgers as well as hot dogs fresh off the grill.

Keeping jive alive, musical entertainment from the Tom Nolan Orchestra will get guest's feet moving during their Swinging to the Fifties concert, starting at 2:30 p.m.

"We always encourage people to come up and visit us," said Kathleen Sturkey, LARC Ranch executive director. "It's a great day out. The most exciting part is that guests get a chance to tour the ranch and see what we do."

The ranch is home to 103 special needs adults ages 18-59 as well as elderly residents ages 60 and older. Residents live in one of 13 four-bedroom villas on the land, equipped with amenities that suit individualized needs.

Three of the homes accommodate the ranch's residential care for the elderly, while one is designated for residents who require a higher level of care.

The 2,900 square-foot villas were reconstructed in 2001 to form a cul-de-sac, creating a sense of community and secure environment.

With round-the-clock supervision from trained residential care staff, ranch-style living takes on a whole new meaning.

"It's really surprising to see how much each person has grown since being here," said Sturkey.

"Every day makes a difference," said Kathleen's husband, Charles Sturkey.

The pair has worked with the organization for the past 17 years and have seen their fair share of daily improvements among ranch recipients.

Under the guidance of residential counselors, members are involved in activities to help refine their motor skills as well as build concentration and confidence levels.

Residents are taught to engage in all aspects of daily living from meal preparation to cleanup duties.

Activities are geared toward the ability level of each individual, from folding laundry to the graduated task of washing and drying clothing. But Kathleen Sturkey knows that routine housework can be anything but dull.

"Learning something new keeps the brain working and helps people live longer," said Sturkey. "Someone may be capable of cooking dinner, while another's ability level enables them to only stir a pot or set the table. Every act is equally important and they all work together like one big family."

Charles Sturkey shared the same sentiments.

"Everyone here is taught to obtain their goals to the best of their ability and work as a team," said Sturkey.

Teamwork comes in all forms among residents, who partake in group activities as well as organized "family" outings. Residents join in recreational fun with regularly scheduled events such as bingo and karaoke as well as music appreciation, dancing lessons and craft projects.

Activities take on a sporty edge for residents who wish to use the gymnasium for aerobic sessions and a variety of group sports.

Residents can also dive into a good time while using the ranch's indoor swimming pool for water activities or a supervised swim.

Community outings offer residents a wide variety of supervised excursions into town and include dining out, shopping, bowling or just taking in a movie.

But Kathleen Sturkey knows that residents don't just go into town on a lark.

"There are more to these outings than just having a good time," said Sturkey. "It increases their ability to socialize and conduct themselves properly in public. It helps on so many levels."

But the ranch's vision to improve the quality of life among its residents doesn't stop there.

The Adult Development Center on the ranch provides a higher staff to participant ratio to work on program development, physical education, socialization, language development and motor skills.

Skills are developed through activities such as group discussions, puzzle arrangement, flashcards and computer training, among others.

"Learning through memory is an important tool that we use on a daily basis," Sturkey said.

LARC Industries' Day Training Activity Center provides a work-oriented program for the residents who possess more refined skill development and independence capabilities.

The program provides a wide range of outdoor group activities as well as vocational training for those who feel ready to take on the workforce.

Employee job coaches give training that includes preparing clothes and a packed lunch the night before work, as well as setting an alarm clock to get up in time for the hectic morning commute.

"The residents who have jobs need to catch the city bus, so they need to make sure they are ready and leave enough time, just like the rest of us." Charles Sturkey said.

Successful job recipients at the ranch have worked at local venues such as Ralphs Supermarket, Smart and Final, Target, Goodwill and Magic Mountain.

But whether working out in town or on a daily task back at the ranch, each resident is taking steps toward further development.

"These meaningful activities help residents lead as much of a ‘normal lifestyle' as possible," said Robert Stewart, whose 41-year-old son, Gregg, has been a resident of the ranch for the past 12 years.

Gregg Stewart is deaf and has limited speech as well as some physical disabilities, but his father knows how the ranch has benefited his son's life.

"The staff are warm, caring and so dedicated," said Stewart. "Activity is critical to their well-being, no matter what the disability."

Outside of its Saugus ranch, LARC also offers housing for higher functioning developmentally disabled adults, located on Apple Street in Newhall.

"This is really a model of how much the work they do on the ranch can improve lives," said Kathleen Sturkey.

Residents are referred to the ranch by the North Los Angeles County Regional Center, an organization which helps place developmentally disabled individuals in a setting best suited to their needs.

Residents' disabilities include mild to severe cases of mental retardation, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome, among others.

But ranch staff urge community members to gain a new perspective on an old stereotype.

"They are just like us and they are all beautiful inside," Kathleen Sturkey said.

Within the plush grounds and safe haven of the ranch, community members will get a chance to tour the facilities and meet some ranch residents on the day of the event.

"They don't look at themselves like they're disadvantaged and they don't judge others," Kathleen Sturkey said. "When you're on the ranch, you can just be you. They see and appreciate you for who you really are. Working with them makes me a better person."

"They are all wonderful individuals and working with them has changed our lives dramatically for the better," Charles Sturkey said.

"I often wonder why I ever leave for the day."

The ranch is in critical need of support due to state budget cuts and also a reduction of crucial medical services for residents' personal health.

Many of the ranch residents are insured through both Medi-cal and Medicare, two providers that have either stopped or reduced coverage for optometry, dentistry, podiatry and psychological services for the disabled individuals.

"These services are so important and we need to find a way to help supplement members' needs for them," Kathleen Sturkey said.

The ranch relies on funding from the state through the Regional Center, but with a 3 percent permanent budget cut at the beginning of the year and more pending in the months to come, Kathleen Sturkey is battling for LARC to remain afloat and be able to serve those in need.

Further cuts may lead to the ranch closing down two of its adult day programs.

"We have been hit really hard by the economy and are fighting to keep our doors open at this point," Sturkey said. "We would love to welcome all of our community to come and see the important purpose of our ranch and enjoy a day out there with our loving family."

Tickets are $125 for adults; $50 for children ages 5-13, family packages for two adults and two children are available for $325.

All proceeds from the event will benefit LARC Ranch. Sponsorship opportunities are available.

For more information about LARC Ranch, including how to donate, become a sponsor or how to purchase tickets to the upcoming fundraiser, visit or call (661) 296-8636, ext. 219.


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