O.C.A.R.C.: Helping others to help themselves
In 1956, Orange County parents and citizens with a great awareness of the opposition facing the mentally challenged combined their efforts and started a long lasting non-profit organization, the O.C.A.R.C.
The primary focus of the affiliation is to attempt to bring a variety of different vocational skills into the lives of those who cannot get vocational training through average means to obtain a source of income.
This was in a time prior to government mandated help for the challenged and prior to government funding. This idea in and of itself posed great hurdles getting up and started but found Orange County citizens with a vision of the future of all of its citizens, not just those considered of normal abilities.
“Orange was one of the few communities nationwide that started its own organization itself,” states John Thomas. Thomas, Executive Director of the program/business, has been with O.C.A.R.C. for 38 years and has seen the best and worst of times of the community support.
“Orange has been great to us always. Last year was hard with all the market uncertainty, but this year our levels have been back up. When times are hard for people times are hard for us.”
His blue eyes easily tell a story of many years of helping and direction those who need extra help. The group of mentally challenged clients he has the privilege of overseeing work their tasks as a regular job. They are trained and put to work in an industrial setting making signs, assembling trophies, and engraving plaques of metal and wood.
“We are helped some by The United Way which is good and bad. Since we generate a lot of our own funds when time get hard it can affect us. Of course funds have been cut for government program in a lot of areas. Beaumont MHMR is a skeleton crew compared to what it used to be,” he smiles. He isn’t negative, just matter-of-fact. Being negative isn’t an option when so much is on the line. “The world is changing though.”
Thomas is referring to the changes that make it harder to give his clients hands on things to do. With automation and digitization fewer hands are needed in every industry.
“Machine do the work for pennies of what we would pay someone else to do by hand. Years ago they could fold mail outs, now a machine does that.”
With 60 plus clients at any given time showing up for work, there are still things they stay busy doing, for these things they depend on another set of clients, those who come in a purchase the products being produced. Individuals as well as companies use O.C.A.R.C. to provide professional signs to their businesses, road ways, or celebrations.
League sports purchase signage and banners for events, mothers for birthdays, kids for parent’s anniversaries, make their way to 905 W. Park in Orange and bring in their needs. It is the purpose of O.C.A.R.C. provision for community needs while providing for their worker’s needs.
Of all their signs made for others, however, there is one posted annually for their own company. One can see these signs currently scattered about and easily recognizable announcing the annual fishing tournament which O.C.A.R.C.
Held the first Saturday in August, this year’s marks the 24th year of fishing and fun for all ages. There are monetary prizes and trophies, including any child under ten that will receive one. The bragging rights may be the best part of the tournament. “You would be surprised how many kids wind up winning,” says Thomas.
The tournament covers a forty mile radius of the waters in around Orange county area. There is no specific fish that are sported for during the tournament. Those fishing then bring in their catch for measuring and certification 4 to 6 p.m. with a ceremony to follow. It is a tournament that has brought money and tourism into the local area for some of the best fishing around. Company sponsors can take a lot of credit in helping the annual event be all that it is, but there is one man, along with his wife that turned out to be pivotal in it turning into a growing and permanent yearly institution.
According to Thomas, he started with little knowledge of how tournaments were run, until a gentlemen came in to meet with him one day and introduced him to the ABC’s of sponsorships, prizes and rules. “You know people will cheat you even for a mere $25 dollars,” chuckles Thomas who continues, “He said he would help on one condition and that was that his name and donation remain anonymous. And it did until he passed away.”
The gentleman he is referencing is Don Garrett. He annually gave a check for sponsorship of the tournament and his wife, Evelyn continued to do so after his death.
To honor them, O.C.A.R.C. now gives out an award with their name the Don & Evelyn Garrett Award is given out annually to a group or individual who works behind the scenes to make the fishing tournament happen. It may be donation of time, energies or money but they are all considered priceless.
This year’s recipient is the Orange Boat Club. They help every year with a variety of areas that make the whole tournament work together properly. Those who have willingly linked up with Thomas and his team, and the Orange community work together, mostly behind the scenes, to help challenged citizens have a better more productive life.
Dupont has contracted with O.C.A.R.C. since 1960 and is no more or less important than the customer who orders a Baby’s First Birthday banner or a council member who buys reelection yard sign. To Thomas’ main clients, some of which have been working at the workshops longer than he has, they are all important.
“The property is donated, each of these buildings was built with private funds, Orange has been so good to us. I want to thank the public for supporting us all of these years, I really do,”
Thomas looks out on his crew, each busy at their tasks, “They have to have some self-help skills to be here, but this is their place. Its good and safe place for them to come.”
For more information on the tournament, the products or ways you can help go to: www.OCARC.com.