By REID TUCKER
It is no exaggeration to say that John and Becky Saltsman are among the most community-oriented families in Walton County.
It should also come as no surprise that they were chosen as this year’s Christmas Family, as The Herald-Breeze received numerous nominations to that effect from friends and people in the community. Individually, the Saltsmans, who celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary in June, have been involved in more than their fair share of community service projects over the years. Together they form a link in a four-generation chain of abiding connection with the place they live. For them, family, education and community service are shared concepts.
The succession of community involvement began with Becky’s parents, Don and Mary Steele, who founded the Association of Retarded Citizens of Walton County (now known simply as “ARC”) in DeFuniak Springs in 1973. Becky, who was in eighth grade at that time, said ARC literally had to start from scratch without state funding, as Florida’s mid-’70s budget crunch resulted in a shift from state-supported institutionalization of people with mental disabilities to community-based care and education facilities. Though it began on shaky ground, ARC is still going strong to this day.
That longevity is due in part to the personal stake ARC’s founding family has in the success of the organization: Becky’s brother, Ricky, is himself severely mentally handicapped and is a client of ARC. For her, she sees the virtues of the work ARC does for Walton County in the positive impact it has had on her brother’s life.
“On a personal level, my appreciation goes straight to my brother,” Becky said. “If he didn’t have somewhere to go and feel like he was doing something with his life, I see him just sitting at home doing nothing. When he goes to the workshop he gets to do things he wouldn’t get to do otherwise and learn whatever he can and feel good about himself. The same thing is true for the rest of the clients.”
ARC’s goal is to provide education and assisted living services such as classes in job training and life management skills to developmentally disabled individuals, which can mean both physical and mentally handicaps. After John took over the role of president from Becky’s father when he retired 13 years ago and ARC has been growing exponentially ever since, with new projects either already being implemented or on the drawing board
Within the past 10 years, ARC began offering employment-based education, which affords clients the opportunity to get hands-on experience working in the field, enriching their lives through community service tailored to their specific abilities while earning a living. ARC also operates a group home that is capable of housing five people and plans to open a charter school with curriculum emphasizing job training come fall, pending approval from the Walton County School Board. More than 30 applicants, aged 18 to 22, have already expressed interest in enrolling in the charter school.
“One of the missions of ARC is to provide a place for developmentally disabled people to come and learn what they can and provide assistance not only in their activities of daily living, but to help them prepare themselves, if they’re capable, to go out into the community and earn a living,” John said….
Read the full story in the December 23, 2010 edition of the Herald Breeze.