Founded in 1956, O.C.A.R.C. has filled a niche in society for mentally challenged adults. “It was started by families so their children would have something to do after graduation,” said John Thomas. Back then society did not know what to do with these adults. Often, they were ignored, pushed aside or even institutionalized.

Catherine Boyd was the driving force for what was initially set up as a workshop to provide vocational training for these adults. It started out as an association trying to find out what to do. First, it was located in Boyd’s home, and then they moved to the Thomen Center.  In 1970, Mrs. Nelda Stark gave them the land at their current location at 905 W. Park Ave.

“Betty Harmon and a bunch of them got together and had a fundraiser and they raised money for this front building right here,” said Thomas. “It was completed in ‘71. I came here in about ’74 and built a little shop back here.”

Thomas says the facility was built with private money and donations from Orange County citizens. “We’ve always had good support from the plants and communities in general. Orange County, if somebody is in need, they are going to step up. If they really need something I’ve never seen anything they didn’t get,” he said.

He said DuPont gave them one of their first engraving machines. “We’ve been doing these little plates for DuPont since 1960.” He was referring to identification plates that will go on equipment at the plant. Sandy McCormack said, “Every valve, switch, knob, junction, whatever has got to have a label on it and we do them by the thousands.”

Thomas said, “We have all levels of clients from pretty low level to some of them, if Orange had some jobs, they could probably go out and work someplace. Normal people are taking all the low-end jobs right now.

“Most of our clients come from the school systems.” He said when they are 17 and they have gone through all the job training at school and if is determined  they are not going to be able to go out in the public to work, they bring them to O.C.A.R.C. for a couple of hours a day. Then, when they are 22, that’s when a schools obligation is fulfilled; they go to O.C.A.R.C. from there. “That’s how we get most of our clients. All school systems around here are doing an excellent job, training, identifying and job coaching. We can be proud of the school system I think. When I first started there was hardly anything. That was 38 years ago. There wasn’t a whole lot in this area for them to do. It’s all changed for the better, I think,” said Thomas

McCormack added, “Yeah, cause back then, they were just pushed to the side. They weren’t acknowledged as special needs.”

Thomas said they even had some dyslexic kids back then, because the schools didn’t know how to identify them.

O.C.A.R.C. makes signs, banners, trophies, plaques, stickers, red rags and some specialized items for local plants. Clients make wipers for Print Pak that wipes off sheets of food grade plastic to clean it as they are rolled up. For DuPont Labs they make small foil containers for their moisture analyzers

They are always on the lookout for hand work like stuffing envelopes and preparing mailings for businesses. “Hand jobs are so hard to get,” said Thomas. “Everything is outsourced to China, Taiwan or wherever. It’s real hard, but we try to keep them as busy as we can, keep their minds busy.”

Each year they stuff plastic Easter eggs for the city of Orange Easter egg hunt. They did over 14,000 in just two weeks this past year.

May and June is their peak season on trophies, the end of softball and baseball seasons. Prices start at $6.

“They do a lot of plaques these days,” said Thomas. He has really seen this trend with businesses. “Trophies you have to put someplace, but a plaque you can put on the wall and if you get a couple of them you can make a grouping.”

O.C.A.R.C. has about 70 clients right now. Thomas said it varies about 66 to a little over 70 but stays in those parameters. “Orange County hasn’t grown. Statistically, mentally challenged is about one percent of the population.” Some are high end, some are the low end and they get the ones in-between.

Hurricane Ike put 15 inches of water in the main two buildings. “The Stark Foundation helped us out a whole bunch with that, they really did.” Thomas said if he was waiting on government money they would still be rebuilding, but they were back in business in three weeks and the sign building didn’t flood so they went right back to work there.

“Hurricanes are good for sign business,” said Thomas. “There’s a good and bad in everything.”

The clients were clamoring to come back. “That’s one thing about my clients. They love to come here. Everybody needs a purpose to get up and do something. I couldn’t ask for a better attendance record than I have here,” he said.

Their annual fishing tournament is coming up next month. “I can’t believe its 25 years, but it is,” said Thomas.

He said the fishing tournament is more for publicity than fundraising. “Once a year, they know we are still here, in business and we make a little money on the fundraiser.”

“We used to make fishing lures,” said Thomas. That is how the fishing tournament came about as a fundraiser. They no longer make lures, “It was too time consuming,” he said. But the fishing tournament has endured.

“It’s turned into a really big thing, the fishing tournament. We have a really good response,” said McCormack.

“We have 300-350 fishermen,” said Thomas. “We’re more of a family fishing tournament. I guarantee a quarter of the people that win are kids.”

“We had 69 children signed up to fish last year,” said McCormack.

“I have some kids that were fishing 25 years ago, now have kids fishing in this tournament,” said Thomas.

The tournament is Aug. 3-4. The entry fee is $25 with 31 winners in 11 categories. Weigh-in is 6 p.m. Aug, 4 at O.C.A.R.C., 905 w. Park. A new category this year is for an Appaloosa Red. The slot red with the most spots wins $250.

For more information call (409)886-1363.

 Photo: Roger Livingston and Felix Orta pose with the 25th anniversary tee-shirt. Livingston and Orta are the two remaining original clients of O.C.A.R.C.