It’s been the Christmas season for several months now at the Arc.

The Arc of Southeast Mississippi (Arc) is a United Way non-profit organization devoted to providing community-based services to individuals with mental challenges and their families.

Participants in the ARC Rise and Shine program have been busy since before Halloween crafting approximately 1,000 Christmas ornaments, as well as medals for the annual ARC Hobble then Gobble race held on Thanksgiving morning.

 Rise and Shine is one of many programs the nonprofit uses to promote and encourage the acceptance of those with mental disabilities by exposure to, and interaction with, people in the community. Other programs include dances, contests, parties, games, Mother's Day Out, Adventures Summer Program, Day at the ARC/ Weekend Respite, participation in Sunday church services, Adult Male Respite, Adult Female Respite, music and art programs and parent support groups.

The Christmas ornaments are part of the nonprofit’s fundraising efforts and will be sold during a variety of holiday events around the Pine Belt.

ARC participants have been making a variety of Christmas ornaments each year. However, a couple of years ago they started featuring a signature ornament – “an ornament that the community can collect and purchase from year to year,” said Pennington.

“On a recent weekday morning, Rise and Shine participants took to their tables where they performed a variety of duties.

Some had the job of cutting out the shapes, while others smoothed the rough edges and yet others stamped the backs with the ARC logo.

Rise and Shine provides adults with disabilities an opportunity to be successful in a medium in which they are typically excluded from, community recreation activities. The program carries these adults with disabilities across numerous forms of recreation, allowing them to expand beyond traditional choices, yet shaped by individual preferences. 

Angela Samples, a volunteer and the mother of McKenzie, a special needs child, is helping out with the pottery while her daughter is in school. Samples is the one who helped design this year’s 3-D ornament. A rocket scientist by vocation, as is her husband, her ornament design has become a real avocation.

“It’s really funny to us,” said ARC Executive Director Cindy Pennington. “We have this rocket scientist over there explaining to us how to make a 3D ornament, but she explains it like a rocket scientist. It’s the most wonderful ornament you’ve ever seen.”

This year’s ornament, a nativity scene, will be available in a small and large size and will cost $8 and $10, respectively.

Pennington said they had experimented with a lot of different glazes and are real proud of the end result.

The goal is to create 1,000 for the year, according to Pennington. They will be for sale at the Forrest General Holidaze event, the Art Walk downtown, two or three other holiday shows as well as the holiday showchoir performance.

“We get a lot of personal orders for our pottery as Christmas gifts and one physician likes to buy the ornaments to give out,” Pennington said, noting how hard the Rise and Shiners work to create them.

“Rise and Shine is a real balanced program between leisure and community,” said Pennington. “They have to have some type of work skill and their pottery time is their time to bring in some revenue for the organization.”

While they are only on the ARC campus five days a week, “they would go seven if they could,” according to Pennington. “They refer to it as their college days. It’s just not the traditional program that we’re accustomed to. They have a set day for bowling and other community outings. One thing we have stressed to them is while we are using the community, we are also giving back to the community.”

Pennington mentioned the Blue Line ornaments that were made and given to law enforcement ornaments and the recent involvement in the United Way’s CANpaign campaign.

“Just any opportunity to be giving something back to the community,” said Pennington. “For them to show they are a vital part of the community; for them to understand that it’s not always a being on the receiving end of things, but that there’s a giving aside also and that they have the ability to give something to our community.”

Kerrie Camille Helveston, who graduated at Hattiesburg High last year, is a Rise and Shiner. “She enjoys the social part,” said Pennington. “They think of it as their college experience. And they are doing some great things – going to swaps for them at USM, theme weeks, western week, homecoming week.

“If I could find some place that’s happier than there, I would go,” said Pennington. “It’s just a breath of fresh air.”


Showstoppers Christmas

Beyond the work of the Rise and Shine program, All those who participate with ARC are busily learning songs, will soon learn some dance moves and other necessary part of the upcoming Showstoppers Showchoir Christmas performance.

This year’s theme is a Grand Ole Christmas and will follow a country theme. The program will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10, at the Performing Arts Center on the Oak Grove High School campus. Previously held on the William Carey Campus, repairs from the January tornado are not yet complete to the performance venue.

Now that a venue is in place, Pennington said they are working toward contacting people in the community who might be willing to share their talents and before a filler acts during curtain pulls, as well as joining in the performance alongside ARC participants.

“We have to have a curtain pull because our participants don’t just pop on stage like most would,” Pennington said. “We have to pull the curtain and get everybody set and that takes a few minutes. It takes a little while to throw it all together. We’d like for artistic people in the community to do a brief filler and then pull in and do a song with the Showstoppers. I’m real excited about putting some community faces with them.”

Anyone wanting to participate should contact The Arc at 601.583.4251, Facebook page or


Beth Bunch spends her days as the managing editor of Signature Magazine and its three sister publications, The Hattiesburg Post, The Lamar Times and The Petal News. She loves visiting the pottery shed at The Arc and was honored to have Arc clients make ornaments for her nephew’s wedding this summer.