It comes as no surprise that St. Louis ARC’s biggest fundraiser of the year is inspired by superheroes, as the organization and its supporters are champions for individuals with disabilities and their families.

St. Louis ARC was established in the early 1950s, when a group of parents realized that they were the best advocates for their children.

“In 1950, if you had a child with a disability, the doctor informed you that should put the child away in an institution,” said Mark Keeley, president and CEO of St. Louis ARC. “Most parents listened to their doctors’ advice, but some chose not to.”

Keeley explains the initial meeting in Minneapolis by parents of sons and daughters with  developmental disabilities was the basis for the national ARC organization. Following that gathering, a group of St. Louis parents called for a meeting in an ad.

“They had prepared 15 chairs in the room, but 150 people showed up! That was the birth of our agency,” he said.

In the beginning, St. Louis ARC offered services such as physical and speech therapy, as well as recreational activities like square-dancing, bowling and roller-skating. The following decade would produce more growth for the organization, and for the first time, it extended its vocational services to adults with developmental disabilities.

Today, St. Louis ARC serves more than 4,000 individuals each year, from infants to senior citizens, with workshops, support groups, therapies, social and recreational programs, employment and training services, and residential and adult day programs.

“Last year, we helped 100 individuals get jobs in a wide variety of settings,” Keeley said. “We have a young man who has autism and now works at a law firm. Because of his tremendous attention to detail, he was hired to enter expert witness testimony into their catalog. We have many individuals just like that, who are making a positive difference in their communities.”

Keeley notes that for people with developmental disabilities such as autism, research shows that if the individual does not get a job within three years of graduating from school, the likelihood of them becoming employed and living independently declines.

“The goal is to help people be as independent as possible. To have independence, you have to have a paycheck, you have to have money coming in,” he said. “We spend a lot of time connecting people with others. We build relationships around them to strengthen them. All of us have to have a network of support.”


To empower people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families to lead better lives by providing a lifetime of high-quality services, family support and advocacy.


The Superheroes for Kids event takes place Thursday, April 19, at Palladium Saint Louis. Described as a “cosmic cocktail party of epic proportions,” the event encourages guests to come attired as their favorite superhero. Mary and David Steward II are honorary co-chairs; John and Mimi Londoff, Bhavik Patel, Paul and Teri Weber, and Richard and Kathie Winter are event chairs. For tickets and other information, visit or call (314) 569-2211.