History of Lark
Susan Lautenbacher, Ph.D
The Early Years
Lark Enterprises has proudly supported adults with disabilities for over 60 years. Lark’s story dates back to April of 1954 when the Lawrence County Chapter of the Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC) was formed. Marion Furlong, a mother of a child with intellectual disabilities (ID), served as the President of the organization. Dr. James B. Medlock, a local doctor, served as the vice president. In the beginning years, pilot programs based on services being provided for non-disabled children were created to prove that children with disabilities could and would receive benefit from the same types of programs. Through this design our founders were able to establish pre-school services with the Jewish Women’s Council; public school classes with New Castle School District; and recreation services with the New Castle Recreation Department. As these programs were meeting with success, the group turned their attention to services needed to support adults with disabilities. Marion charged Dr. Medlock with chairing a committee to determine what services would be appropriate for adults with disabilities within the community. The committee found that, as with all adults, work was the primary need.
Dr. Medlock was then elected as President of the Lawrence County Chapter of the ARC and the chapter hired Marion as the Executive Director of the newly established PARC Vocational Training Center. Utilizing $10,000.00 that the Chapter had raised in a door-knocking campaign, the Center opened in February 1957 at 315 Deshon Village. The location was the Barracks of the Deshon Annex, which was part of the Veterans’ Administration Hospital of Butler in 1957. The Center began with two staff members and two clients performing a subcontract job obtained by Dr. Medlock from Leroy Weiner, President of the Reliable Luggage Company. In late 1957, the Center received its first contract from the State Office of Vocational Rehabilitation to pay for evaluations and training services for clients. At this same time the Center was accepted by the local Community Chest (now United Way) as a viable service to support.
In 1959 the Center separated from PARC and established its own identity as Lark Industries. The client population grew and it became necessary to find a new location. The City of New Castle once again came through for the organization and allowed us to use the closed Oak Street School. With more space, more clients, and more staff, subcontract from other companies expanded, and an arts and crafts department and a woodworking department were added. The name was changed again in 1961 to the Lark Workshop for the Handicapped, Inc. to allow for the inclusion of clients with various other disabilities.
In the beginning half of the 1960s the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (now known as the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services; DHS) entered into a partnership with local counties to provide grant money to support programs for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Prior to this time Lark was dependent on the generosity of the local community and the funds received from work contracts developed by the workshop. The state’s decision gave Lark a third funding source to support its mission. In 1966 the Grant-in-Aid program was changed to a dedicated Program-Funded revenue source by the adoption of the Mental Health/Mental Retardation Act of 1966. For the first time Lark had a dedicated funding source for our programs.
Period of Growth
In 1969, Lark was once again on the move because of its need for greater space due to growth. For the first time Lark had to pay rent, relocating to 210 West Washington Street. The building had been a car dealership with multiple levels. Lark moved into two floors and added the new programs of food service, screen printing, and furniture refinishing. Before long it was apparent that more space was needed, so Lark rented a third floor as well. Even with the additional space the growth in the Airway contract was far outpacing our physical space. To alleviate the spacing concern, Lark met with the officials of Airway to suggest a new program to help with the additional work. Airway was willing to hire several of the people trained by Lark and to move the packaging initiative to their facility in Ellwood City. Later, agreements such as this would serve as the foundation for Supported Employment. Supported Employment is defined as people with disabilities being employed in community integrated employment and receiving support from a provider to gain and maintain successful employment. The Board of Directors also decided it was time to look for property and construct a building that would meet our needs. In 1970 the first federal grant was received, and drawings were rendered for the new facility. The receiving of three additional federal grants and a general consensus from the Board and the community led to groundbreaking ceremonies in July of 1976. In 1977 Lark was able to move into the newly constructed building at 2665 Ellwood Road. Continuing growth has led to other satellite locations in the New Castle area. In 1980, Lark officially established itself as Lark Enterprises, Inc.
Leadership Throughout the Years
Marion Furlong, remained in the leadership role of the organization until 2000. During her 43-year tenure she demonstrated a progressive spirit, always thinking outside the box in the providing of employment services for individuals with disabilities. Under her leadership the organization provided job training, vocational evaluations and assessments, mobile work crews, enclaves, and home and community-based support. Upon Marion’s retirement Alice Sankey was hired to take over the helm of Lark Enterprises, Inc.
Alice Sankey brought a strong background in the MH/MR system, ranging from direct service to administration and leadership. Alice’s knowledge in grant writing and service design allowed Lark to venture into transition services for students completing their educational programs. Alice also encouraged the development of supported employment and home and community services. Upon Alice’s untimely passing the Board of Directors conducted a search looking for someone with the background and experience to position Lark for the future. That search culminated in the hiring of Susan Lautenbacher, Ph.D. Susan brought to the endeavor a comprehensive background in disabilities services. Like Marion, she entered this world because of a child with a disability. Once again, the leadership role at Lark was held by someone with a parent’s understanding of life with a disability.
Under Susan’s tenure, Lark has continued in its position as a leader in the providing of services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). The administrative team and staff have been working diligently on a model of person-centered services based in the community-at-large. This model ensures that individuals with disabilities are not only receiving their services in the community, but are becoming fully accepted members of the community. In this approach individuals are finding and maintaining employment in local businesses and industry in the greater five county area of western Pennsylvania. Lark is focusing the time spent by clients in Lark facilities as training time for community-based employment or as employment at no less than minimum wage in one of Lark’s social enterprises. The changes in our focus are reflective of the overall changes in Home and Community Based Services. The changes to our programming is driven by our commitment to our people, as well as state and federal regulations. These changes are resulting in another period of growth for Lark.
Period of Transformation
Through the years, this continued growth has transformed Lark Enterprises into a multifaceted operation serving over 300 clients.
Lark serves the community through the service lines of Community Participation Support, Small Group Employment, Supported Employment, In Home and Community Support and Behavior Support. We also serve the community by carrying out tasks for a multitude of businesses and industries in the area. Our clients have become mobile and are now out and about working within the community in places such as our janitorial services, our recycling services or as license technicians at the New Castle and Beaver Falls PennDOT Photo ID centers. Clients have also been hired at local food eateries and college cafeterias, in large retail and grocery stores, a document storage and maintenance facility, a hardware store, a local hospital, a large manufacturer of molded plastics and many other locations. We operate a full-service UPS Shipping Center.
Additionally, Lark operates its recycling program for small-to-medium-sized businesses. We produce custom printed apparel for all occasions. We manufacture ANSI-Compliant Class II t-shirts and safety wear with reflective tape for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT).
And, yes, we’re still subcontracted by regional businesses and industries for packaging or assembly services.
Our businesses are staffed by well-trained people happy to be a part of a thriving enterprise whether at Lark or out in the community. Their stories and their perseverance lift the spirits of everyone near them.
Every day, the staff at Lark is committed to expanding our community connections and helping those with disabilities achieve independence. This is truly our happy place. There is a reason our employee retention rate is so high and we’ve had just 3 CEOs since 1957.
Today we are more excited than ever about where Lark Enterprises is headed and how we may further enrich the lives of adults with disabilities and special needs while simultaneously serving a community that embraces them.