A move to a larger facility three years ago is opening new doors for the Arc of the Central Plains — literally and figuratively.

Last week, workers from State Glass Co. installed a new double-door entry to the Arc Thrift Shop, 600 Main. The entryway will give the former manufacturing facility more of an appearance of a retail outlet, said executive director Kathy McAdoo.

The building is more than four times larger than the Arc’s original thrift store, opened in 1974 on East 11th downtown. The more than 34,000-square foot building has helped the store increase its revenue, which in turn has opened doors for the Arc to provide services for developmental and intellectually disabled beyond Special Olympics and regional sports.

The organization itself has grown, adding two paid staff members and five seats on its board of directors.

“I wanted to build up the board with a good cross-section of people with different businesses and different walks of life,” said Jim Huenergarde, president of the board of directors.

Shifting from one director to three also has  helped the organization take new direction.

A year ago, McAdoo came on board as executive director, although she wasn’t unfamiliar with the Hays chapter. She had worked for the Arc in Denver for 16 years, where thrift stores fund 14 chapters throughout Colorado.

“I had sort of been mentoring this organization from Denver for a few years,” she said.

She commuted to Denver for about a year after she and her husband moved to his hometown of Russell before the Hays Arc position opened.

Morgan Hart is the thrift shop coordinator, and Huenergarde gives him and the store’s volunteer staff credit for its organization and cleanliness.

Brent Kaiser serves as activities director and part of his focus is adding new activities.

“There’s a big population of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in this town, and not all of them want to do sports. Those people sometimes get left out, and we want to make sure those folks also have an opportunity to participate,” he said.

The 600 Main location allowed for the addition of an activity room, where the Arc has had dances and bingo and where its new Boy Scout chapter meets. Plans are in the works for Lego building activities and life skills training.

“It’s kind of a slow progression,” Kaiser said of adding new activities. “You don’t want to offer too much for this population because they rely on staff for transportation, and sometimes they can't all find it three, four, five days a week so you kind of have to spread it out over time.”

The heart of the Arc’s activities has been its sports programs, though, most notably Special Olympics. But throughout the year, if offers seven sports — basketball, softball, volleyball, bowling, soccer, track and cheerleading.

More than 70 athletes participate, and that number is growing, both in the number of sports athletes participate in as well as new athletes joining the program, Kaiser said. And while the Arc serves Hays and Ellis County, some athletes come in from La Crosse or Quinter where not as many sports are offered by local organizations.

“I see a trend that is going to continue to go like that,” he said.

Kaiser has started to collaborate with other organizations and businesses in town to help create more inclusive activities. He and McAdoo point to February’s Night to Shine as an example of what can be done. The Arc partnered with Fort Hays State University student group Tiger Pals and Celebration Community Church to bring the Tim Tebow Foundation’s prom-like event to Hays. It attracted guests from as far away as Osborne and Smith Center.

A special-needs Easter egg hunt also was offered for the first time this year, which Kaiser believes is not offered anywhere else in the region. He hopes to see more activities that will draw from a larger region.

“We’re going to make it where they can come and play games or whatever, so it makes it worth their time and drive,” he said.

In addition, the Arc and Developmental Services of Northwest Kansas always have been somewhat integrated since they serve a similar population and that is helping increase participation in the new activities, too.

“Word gets around because they all socialize together. If someone had a really great time, they’re going to tell their friends,” McAdoo said.

It’s the growth of the thrift store that is making the further changes possible, however.

The Arc almost is entirely funded by its thrift store, and although McAdoo wouldn’t give figures, she said the revenue has increased substantially since the move.

“It's due to a number of things,” she said. “Obviously size. There's more space to display goods. It's a better location. Donation drop-offs are a lot easier in this location. We've expanded the hours we're open.”

Storage space within the building allows for seasonal rotation of items. The processing room — with a donation drop-off door on the east side of the building — is nearly as large as the store and allows for easier sorting.

“When I would walk into the store on 11th Street, it was like you couldn’t even focus because there was so much stuff,” Kaiser said.

“When you walk into this store, it's very well put out, you know a general area to go look if you're looking for something specific and it just makes it a lot better shopping environment,” he said of the new location.

Help from the community has also been a boost for the new building. A grant from the Dane G. Hansen Foundation of Logan recently allowed the Arc to replace the 45-year-old lighting fixtures with new LED lighting.

“The cost savings annually should be in the neighborhood of $5,000 to $6,000 on our energy bill,” McAdoo said. “So that rolls right into programs, which is great. And then it just enhances the shopping experience. You can see better and it’s brighter.”

Home Depot contributed $5,000 in appliances, cabinetry and labor to complete the activity room.

“They came in here with an army,” McAddo said of the volunteers from the store.

The store is working to obtain a second company grant to finish out the room further, she said.

The heart of the Arc’s store and activities, however, are its volunteers.

“It’s completely run on volunteers,” Kaiser said. “We’ve had many of the same volunteers for a long, long, long time.”

They number about 45, McAdoo said, and several have been with the organization for decades. Many of them have family who are served by the Arc.

“Some work three or four days a week, some work four hours a week. It just depends on what works for them, and we’re flexible. We appreciate any help we can get,” McAdoo said.

Clara Korbe has volunteered in the thrift store for 47 years. Her sister, Bernita Hammerschmdit and husband, Clarence, were one of the founding families of the Arc. Their son, Terry, continues to volunteer in the thrift shop.

“If the original people were still here, they’d be flabbergasted,” she said of the new location.

Korbe said she’s always been “nosy,” so looking through donations is fun. It’s also helped in raising her own seven children, as well as grandchildren and now great-grandchildren, she said.

“It’s a lot of fun working here because the people we get are really great. And we do a lot of good for the community,” she said.

Mary Anne Dinkel began volunteering in the store 20 years ago after retiring from nursing.

“We work hard, we play hard, we get crazy, we have fun. And we get a lot of work done,” she said. “We are a team. That’s the important part, being a team.”

In the thrift store, cashiers are especially needed, McAdoo said, and Saturdays are the day when help is most needed.

Volunteers who log 30 hours of service get a 50 percent discount in the store.

While a large number of new volunteers aren’t often needed, McAddo and Kaiser said their goal is to get younger volunteers involved, especially with sports and Special Olympics, to help sustain the activities.

To that end, the Arc has taken to social media and radio advertising. It has Facebook pages for both the thrift store and for its activities.

“I would say that most of the volunteers I have picked up have been through that,” Kaiser said. “Last year I needed softball coaches and I posted something. I had more softball coaches come to me than I needed.”

Even as long as the Arc has been in Hays, McAdoo and Kaiser said more awareness was needed, and the social media and advertising has helped.

“There's a lot of people over the last year told me they didn't know what the Arc was, they didn't know what they did, they didn't put the thrift shop and Special Olympics together,” Kaiser said.

“We just wanted to drive home the money stays local and it helps people here. It doesn’t go to Kansas City, it doesn’t go to Wichita, it stays right here,” McAdoo said.

“Now people are starting to see. Now they understand and they can see what direction the Arc is going,” Kaiser said.