OUR HISTORY

Changing lives since 1976.

Life Styles was founded in Fayetteville in 1976 by Carol Hart, whose work with disabled youth at what-was-then-called the Washington County School for Trainable Children inspired her to challenge the conventional options available to adults with disabilities—namely segregation in group homes and institutions that keep people isolated from community life.

 

Ever since, Life Styles has been devoted to helping adults with disabilities live productive, self-directed lives at home, work, and play in the very midst of Northwest Arkansas—building a more diverse and vibrant community for each and every one of us, enriched by people of all abilities.

Carol Recognizes the Need for Life Styles.

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It all began with Carol Hart answering a newspaper want ad for classroom aides at the Washington County School for Trainable Children [now the Elizabeth Richardson Center]. “When I walked into that school [which was housed] in the basement of Fayetteville's First United Presbyterian Church, I knew that—for now—that was where I wanted and needed to be,” remembers Carol.

The First Group of Life Styles Clients.

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Motivated by her firsthand experience working with children with special needs, and guided by the best practices and expert advice she sought out, 27-year-old Carol Hart’s fledgling nonprofit took eight people under its wings—two of whom remain Life Styles clients to this day.

Life Style's First Home.

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Life Styles started by renting ten rooms, the motel lobby, and the manager’s quarters at what was then the Vet-View Motel across from the VA Hospital in Fayetteville. Those first eight clients cherished every freedom and treasured tokens of their newfound independence—like having their very own refrigerator and TV.

Pennie$ Galore.

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To add a training area and community dining room to the Residential Center, Life Styles collected $20,000 in pennies—setting a Guinness World Record in the process. Coins were collected in a Plexiglas container at the Northwest Arkansas Mall, then counted, bagged, and transported by National Guard trucks to the closest depository.

Creativity Flourishes at The Blair Center.

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The Blair Center—originally home to the Law Offices of Jim Blair (aka "Blair's Lair") and bequeathed to Life Styles by Jim and his wife Nancy—houses our renowned art program and features an incredible gallery and airy studio space for Life Styles artists.

The Heart of Life Styles.

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Elizabeth Stensgaard Brunner and Fred Brunner spearheaded construction of the remarkable Stensgaard Center. The 16,000-square-foot space is at the heart of the Life Styles organization—hosting daily College For Living (CFL) classes and offering a stage for our performing arts program, a teaching kitchen, and office space for our staff.

A New Era.

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John Newman is named Executive Director, working his way up through the organization from an initial position as part-time Weekend Site Supervisor. Working at Life Styles, John “fell in love with the people we serve, the selfless commitment of the staff who support them, and the family feel of the organization as a whole.”

Half-A-Million Hours and Counting.

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From its first eight clients, today Life Styles serves 255 adults with disabilities, employs more than 300 staff, and delivers half-a-million service hours each year.

It all Comes Back to Community.

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Through these past 45 years, many things have changed. But some of the most important things still remain very much the same.

...There Wasn't Much.

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In working with children with special needs in the 1970s, Carol learned that many families feared their adult children with disabilities would end up institutionalized as they themselves grew older. There were simply no other alternatives at the time—let alone opportunities for work, connection, and enriching education and interests. Then, as now, parents longed for their children to be happy, to be safe, and to flourish throughout their lives.

A Great Place For Us To Start.

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The Fayetteville City Council rejected Life Styles’ proposals to establish a presence in area neighborhoods, siding with neighbors who feared living near individuals with disabilities.

Most Important? We Listened.

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Life Styles clients reveled in the independence they found at Life Styles, and started exploring, and voicing, all types of possibilities.

Residential Center Opening.

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On four acres off Porter Road, Life Styles constructed a 16-person Residential Center with independent-living apartments, still in operation today. Then-governor Bill Clinton and wife Hillary attended the October grand opening of the facility.

So Many Victories.

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As Life Styles continued to grow, so did the daily successes and many victories of our family of clients, including:

  • 1979: The 1st Life Styles couple to marry were Mary and Lewis McCarty.

  • 1994: Kenneth Blanks was the 1st Life Styles client to purchase his very own home.

  • 2003: Brenda Stout became the 1st Life Styles client to earn a bachelor's degree—in Elementary Education from the University of Arkansas.

  • 2017: Daniel Jackson is the Life Styles client with the longest tenure working for a single employer. He worked at Marvin's IGA for just-shy of 20 years, until it permanently closed.

A Stamp of Approval from CARF.

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Life Styles' commitment to quality is recognized by CARF International (Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities), an independent nonprofit which has surveyed hundreds of thousands of human-service provider programs around the world since 1966. Life Styles has maintained its CARF accreditation through regular audits ever since.

A Place For Inclusion.

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John’s total commitment to Life Styles and its mission are always on display—whether loading boxes onto his pickup for a client move or traveling to the state capitol in Little Rock to debate public health policy.

Expanding our Reach.

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Life Styles remains enthusiastically committed to delivering programs that are innovative, efficient, and effective. That uplift and empower disability culture. And that will reach into new areas of Northwest Arkansas, and touch more lives than ever before.