For many of us, Christmas can be a stressful time due to the strain on finances that gift-giving can cause. We look for bargains and value-added without sacrificing quality. Well, as luck would have it, this year brings a new Quad Cities enterprise that provides all of the above and much more.

The Association for Retarded Citizens of Rock Island County (ARC) is now in the business of making candles, and not just ordinary candles. These candles are environmentally friendly, using natural scents with essential oils, soy materials, and cotton-braided lead-free wicks in unique combinations that are particularly pleasing and satisfying, safe for the environment, biodegradable, and user-friendly for many with allergies and other conditions that cause them to shy away from the lovely experience of aromatic candle-burning.

The ARC provides a variety of services, including residential, social, and work programs for our community's individuals with disabilities. In the ARC's case, the primary diagnosis for its clients is mental retardation. ARC Industries is the division that manages all the work programming for its parent organization, including ARC Candle Manufacturing, which is an entrepreneurial effort to increase revenues independent of traditional sources of funding, while simultaneously increasing job opportunities for the clients. (Visit the ARC's Web site at http://www.arcric.org for more information on the organization.)

Bob Ehmke, ARC's director of marketing, observes, "Agencies need to find ways to generate funds and control their own destinies, as opposed to being tied solely to taxpayer-funded sources. Our agency is actively looking for more entrepreneurial projects that allow us to be more independent, such as small business startups. We look primarily for three things: a positive image we can build on; an enterprise that is labor-intensive, requiring a lot of labor that matches our individuals' competencies and abilities and also provides opportunities for additional job training; and finally an enterprise that generates revenues for the agency because 100 percent of all proceeds goes back to the agency to support our mission."

The group's mission statement says that ARC aims "to create and enhance opportunities for those individuals to achieve their highest potential by providing a bridge to the world through education, training, and experience in a climate of mutual respect."

ARC Industries provides subcontract work for large and small businesses in the community. According to Ehmke, "We have a ready-made workforce in place with 65,000 square feet and 120 workers for different jobs that might not be primary to a company's operation, such as packaging operations, sorting, collating, small assembly, etc. Another small business we operate is manufacturing custom corrugated boxes. We produce custom boxes that fit the customer's specific needs. We can fulfill large orders for companies who require boxes with unique dimensions, but also a small order of 25 boxes for individuals who only need a few. This enterprise meets our criteria because it provides work opportunities for the clients we serve and provides revenues to the agency. We also sell moving and storage boxes and containers, along with moving kits, at our facility located at 610 37th Avenue, Rock Island. "

Marlo Greer, product specialist for the new manufacturing venture, explains, "The ARC launched its new venture in February 2003 and in just eight months has a going concern to be proud of. The entire enterprise is handled by the ARC's workforce, from the candle-making to imprinting the labels to the final packaging."

Organic candle scents, such as Lemon Meringue and Orange Delight, are derived from natural oils rather than synthetic sources. Christmas Tree boasts the real essence from the Douglas Fir tree. Candle blends include all natural oils, such as Clarity, which is a mixture of eucalyptus, peppermint, camphor, lavender, and marjoram; Romance is another fragrant blend of cinnamon, sandalwood, and ylang-ylang. There is a candle for all manner of occasion from festive to romantic to relaxing to delicious.

The ARC has a kiosk in Younker's Court at Southpark Mall, where candles of all different sizes, shapes, and scents can be purchased. Simply and tastefully packaged, the distinctive variety of merchandise ranges from various gift boxes with tea lights to colored glass votives to decorative frosted-glass and filigree holders to large glass-encased candles to tins with decorative stamps to travel tins. Prices range from $3.95 to $17.95.

The real beauty of the ARC's candles can be found in their production, with a workforce that is unique, capable, and dedicated to making an excellent product. The ARC provides jobs for a special group of citizens who give their best effort each day, taking pride in their work and each other. There are no other job opportunities for many of these workers, so success for the ARC's enterprises comes both from its internal commitment to providing satisfactory products and services and the public's awareness of and support for its remarkable efforts

Peggy Barnard, currently a customer service representative who has been with the ARC for 23 years, marvels, "If I am having a bad day, the workers make me forget about my worries because they are so attentive and caring. As a workforce, the workers here are good natured, work-wise, and very reliable. I consider them unsurpassed in terms of appreciation of their jobs. They enjoy the work and being together, so it is a pleasure to work with them."

More information about ARC's candle products can be found at (http://www.mothernatureslight.org), and the organization's kiosk is open during mall hours.

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