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Just as they always do this time of year, Levy Association for Retarded Citizens (LARC) clients, staff and board members assembled in the dining room of the old Otter Creek School to receive the donation check from the host of the annual Wild Hog Canoe Race fund-raiser.
For the last three years, that group has been AMVETS Post 88 of Bronson, and this year they brought a check for $6,800.
The total was just a little over last year's contribution of $6,725, and post commander Clyde McGarva felt it keenly.
"We wanted to do better by them," he said.
LARC Executive Director Betty Walker was happy and grateful though.
"The economy is terrible," she said. "This is wonderful, and we're so happy to get it."
LARC board member Lieutenant Sean Mullins of Levy County Sheriff's Office also expressed his gratitude, thanking AMVETS for their dedication to such an excellent cause.
In addition to the check presented by AMVETS, the Cedar Key Lions Club sent a donation of $5,000. Lions president Michael Day said the club was happy to prioritize LARC for a donation.
Walker said the money comes just in time. Recent weeks' headlines have blared state budget cuts from Tallahassee, and she said she expected per-client fees from APD (Agency for Persons with Disabilities) to be cut a further 5 to 5.5 percent over last year's cuts.
"It's just gonna gut us," she said.
LARC is able to provide services on a fees-per-client basis, meaning that if enough clients aren't able to come to the day training center, the day training center can't afford to stay open.
This shouldn't be a problem, given that the number of mentally handicapped adults in the county keeps rising. Unfortunately, due to ongoing budget cuts at the state level, the waiting list for ARC services has been frozen for more than two years.
Walker's own clients at LARC, many of whom were starting there some 28 years ago when she started, are aging and dying out of the system. Yet, when they leave LARC, to be cared for elsewhere or to die, they are not replaced by those on the waiting list. The number of LARC clients just gets smaller, and resources and services levels are strained.
"We have a certain level of service we have to provide," Walker explained. "We have to be able to care for somebody and help them learn something and keep them and the staff safe. If we don't have the resources to do that, we'll have to turn them away."
The training center is already down to four days a week, closed on Fridays because Small Waiver clients can only pay for three days, and easily fatigued older clients don't have the energy to come for all five days. With additional cuts to take effect July 1, Walker wonders where she and her staff will find the resources to keep helping the mentally handicapped adults of Levy, Dixie and Gilchrist counties.
"We're gonna be crunching some numbers," she said.
Then she brightened. Looking at her dedicated staff and the faces of the 40-some men and women who depend on LARC's services, she waved the checks and shouted, "How much is $6,800 and $5,000?"
The clients just whooped and laughed, but the staffers smiled as they shouted back, "$11,800!"