Many people have never heard of The Arc of Butler County and have no idea about the mission of the organization.

Many people have never heard of The Arc of Butler County and have no idea about the mission of the organization.

It’s all about empowerment.

The Arc of Butler County empowers families and individuals with intellectual and related disabilities to engage in lifelong opportunities to live, learn, work and play with dignity, freedom and full inclusion in their communities.

Another part of the platform is that everyone is entitled to the rights and privileges granted by the government regardless of any condition or disability.

In 1954 there were no special education programs in the public school system. A group of parents began exploring the possibilities of operating a special classroom for their children with mental and physical challenges. The Butler County Association for Retarded Children was formed and backed by several interested civic groups, a classroom was established and operated by the BCARC until it became a part of the El Dorado public school system in 1957. Children from all parts of Butler County attended the class.

For more than 60 years, The Arc has been an advocacy leader, actively establishing and changing laws, creating new opportunities at home and in the communities.

For executive director Nancy Olson and Special Olympics coordinator Sarah Vaughn, their careers chose them - they did not start out planning to be on the paths they have found in life.

Olson was a special education teacher in Nemaha, Kan., in the 1970s and got involved in a grant writing project for the Nemaha Training Center, eventually moving into a transition coordinator position. She has been involved in advocacy ever since and with The Arc of Butler for a number of years.

The Arc has a number of projects and activities, but Olson is particularly fond of Friday Fun Nights, a club for teens and young adults with special needs every Friday night during the school year at the Stadium Grounds in Andover.

“Sometimes Friday nights, I’m tired and I drag myself in there and all the kids are so happy to see me - they hug and want to know how I’m doing. It’s unconditional love. Nowhere else can you get a feeling like that,” she said smiling.

Olson advised the staff members at the Friday Fun Nights are paid professional supervisors. The event is organized and safe. It’s not a baby-sitting service.

Vaughn was pulled into working with The Arc in a different way. She was the mother of five children, two sons with special needs. In 2003, her 13-year-old son, Andrew, died after darting into the street and being struck by an automobile.

She first became involved with The Arc of Sedgwick County and now she and her 17-year-old son, Aaron, participate with The Arc of Butler. Vaughn is active with the Special Olympics of Kansas and the Butler Blazers, the Special Olympic team that participates in basketball, cheerleading, track and field, bowling, softball, and swimming.

“We’ve got around 75 active athletes ages 8 years and up, who currently participate in six of the 21 sports offered by Kansas. We’re part of the south central area of the Special Olympics of Kansas and we’re sponsored and operated by volunteers,” Vaughn added. “We would like to add more sports when funds become available.”

The volunteer coaching staff for the athletes is diverse and all enjoy the experience. More volunteers are needed and teens are encouraged to volunteer in the sports activities. To volunteer or for more information, go to: or phone 316-680-4240.

“Personally, I receive so much by watching those who are in the Special Olympics. They all know me and are always excited to see me. They don’t really know whether they win or lose. They just love being there and they all receive medals,” Vaughn explained.

Another Arc program Olson and Vaughn want to bring back is the Informational Meetings held specifically to provide support and information to parents and families.

“I’d like to encourage parents to get involved with The Arc. They’re not alone. Our kids don’t come with instructional manuals. We can help each other,” Vaughn said.

The Circle of Friends is another important program comprised of those with disabilities and their non-disabled peers in school districts throughout Butler County.

Gala fundraiser

In order for The Arc to provide all the outstanding programs and services, membership and donations are needed.

A major fundraiser will be held on Feb. 15 at the Civic Center in El Dorado.

The gala evening will feature an elegant five-course dinner prepared by Jayleen Catering. Special guests will be Sierra Scott, local television and pageant personality, along with Chris Burke, actor and folk singer, who has Down syndrome and is best known for his character Charles “Corky” Thacher on the television series Life Goes On. Entertainment will be provided by the Butler Community College Headliners, and the evening will also feature an auction.

Another feature of the evening will be special recognition of one of the founders and longtime supporters of The Arc, Neil Benson of El Dorado.

Tickets are $75 and can be purchased by contacting Nancy Olson at 316-706-1135.

Belinda Larsen can be reached at