Interviews with purpose-driven leaders who are dedicated to helping others and making a positive impact in the world.
May 20, 2021
Lloyd Lewis | arc Thrift Stores
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
I am Lloyd Lewis, president and CEO of arc Thrift Stores. Arc Thrift Stores operates 31 thrift stores and 15 “donation stations” throughout Colorado. Store operations provide funding to Arc Chapters, which in turn provide advocacy for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and arc is one of the largest employers of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Colorado.
I started the Arc Ambassador program several years ago. Arc Ambassadors are people with intellectual and developmental disabilities employed as team members at Arc Thrift stores throughout the Front Range. They work in many different positions in the stores, including as donation coordinators, clothing hangers, and room attendants. Arc Ambassadors serve as examples of the organization’s mission in action – to have people with intellectual and developmental disabilities gain self-respect, self-determination, and independence in their communities and professional workplace.
From there, I created Arc Ambassador University, a program devoted to the enhancement of the lives of arc Ambassador employees through promotion, enrichment, growth, recognition, and exposure to learning, fellowship, challenges, and new experiences.
Additionally, Arc Thrift Stores is one of the state’s largest recyclers. Every year 21 million pounds of goods are diverted from Colorado’s landfills thanks to Arc Thrift Stores and the eco-savvy customers who donate and shop at the stores located throughout the state. Of that number, 13 million pounds of cloth goes on to be repurposed.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
I started out as a “typical” businessman…got an MBA from the University of Chicago Graduate business school, a high-level career spent as CFO at IBM and Smith Barney.
Then, 17 years ago, my entire corporate-centric world turned upside down when my son Kennedy was born with Down syndrome. To say this was unexpected is an understatement.
Immediately after he was born, Kennedy was whisked out of the room for observation. About an hour later, the doctor came back into the room to announce that he “had no good news to tell us about our son.” I thought maybe he had died, and I asked the doctor what he meant. “We suspect he has Down syndrome,” he continued. I then ushered the doctor out of the room and banned him from re-entering.
This began my quest to learn all I could about Down syndrome and my journey in the field of advocacy for inclusion and acceptance of people with disabilities. I changed my career and I changed my outlook on what it meant to be a businessman with purpose and passion.
Since I came to arc in 2005, arc Thrift Stores has had a $2.7 billion economic impact on the state of Colorado. Arc Thrift Stores has also become one of the state’s largest employers of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. My team and I consciously approach and live the organization’s mission every day, and I believe that all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities should have the opportunity to decide how they live, learn, work, and play. Nearly 20 percent of arc’s 1,600 employees and arc Ambassadors are individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Additionally, Store operations provide the bulk of funding to Arc Chapters, which in turn provide advocacy for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I also created the Arc Academy which encompasses all of the programs and educational programming arc has put in place to enrich the lives of the Ambassadors.
I am the author of, Why Not Them?, a book about how my life was transformed by the birth of my son, Kennedy. The book ranked as the #1 nonfiction book in the Tattered Cover’s new paperback book list upon release. My hope is to change the way our communities think about, connect with, and employ people with disabilities.
Prior to arc, I had a financial and tech career as a municipal investment banker, a senior financial analyst with IBM, a director of finance for a publicly-traded medical equipment company, and as CFO for a high-tech company ultimately sold to Micron.
Also before arc, I helped create the Linda Crnic Institute, the world’s largest Down syndrome research facility, located on the Anschutz campus of the University of Colorado Health Center.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
My dream is to create awareness of the contributions that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities make to their families, schools, communities, and places of work. I have dedicated my life to this dream.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
As CEO, I am responsible for generating funding to support advocacy for persons with developmental disabilities. In 2021, arc Thrift Stores is expecting to fund an additional $11 million to the 15 Colorado Arc Advocacy Chapters. This will bring arc Thrift Stores’ cumulative contribution to the Arc Advocacy Chapters since 2005 to $111 million.
Since the COVID pandemic, my team and I have been responsible for approximately $60 million in support of arc employees, arc advocacy chapters, hundreds of nonprofits, including food banks, shelters, senior centers, and family resource centers. This support comes in the form of financial assistance, food, relief supplies, vouchers for items in arc stores, and PPE.
We worked together as we navigated arc through the COVID crisis as an essential business, adopted 31 best safety practices for our employees, finished 2020 with a strong financial position, and we’ve rebuilt sales so that arc will enjoy another record year in 2021.
During my tenure, I have served as chair of the board of the Rocky Mountain Down Syndrome Association, and I currently co-chair the board of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition; the Colorado Disability Partnership, a new c4 I created; and the Atlantis Community Foundation which has recently completed a phase one, 60-unit affordable disability housing apartment complex, and will break ground on a phase two, 80-unit apartment project this month. I also serve as chair of a gubernatorial appointed disability funding committee.
Most recently, I helped lead an effort for vaccine prioritization for people with disabilities which resulted in their prioritization being improved from phase 3 to phase 1b3 and phase 1b4, with eligibility improved to March 5 and March 21 from summer/fall. Additionally, arc will do four vaccine pop-up clinics in partnership with another recognized Denver nonprofit that focuses on mental health.
I attend all arc Ambassador monthly events, I know most or all of the Ambassador employees personally and by name, and in conjunction with film students at the University of Colorado at Denver, we are creating a 30-minute documentary on the arc Ambassador program, which will be shown on Rocky Mountain PBS sometime this fall and will appear in the Denver International Film Festival.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
I am a champion in all areas of disability and inclusion advocacy. I do this by not only leading one of the state’s largest employers of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, but also in my role on multiple boards across the state providing leadership and council to many nonprofits affiliated with improving the lives of and fighting for the rights of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to live, learn, and thrive in society.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
My vision is to improve and advocate for the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and to help to create a world where diversity, equity, and inclusion are part of every part of our communities.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
The COVID crisis was the most difficult period in arc’s history. As a business, it will take years to recover from its effects. But as a designated essential business that was instrumental in assisting the entire state through the pandemic, we are confident that the future is bright.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR CAUSE AND/OR THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
One of the shining lights of the COVID crisis was that arc Thrift Stores as an organization had the opportunity to step in and function as a relief-providing entity throughout the state. As a designated essential business, we went beyond retail and donations, to be of service to at-risk populations in Colorado in the way of food, clothing, vouchers, PPE materials, and employee support. Total funding and support exceed $50 million since March 2020.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?
I believe with appropriate learning and living environments, individuals with developmental disabilities can achieve levels of self-sufficiency never achieved before. We’re now funding at a level that helps thousands of individuals with disabilities find jobs, housing, medical services, assistance in schools, and gain respect. In addition, we also supply provisions during times of natural disaster, vouchers for the homeless, and jobs for people who need a second chance. That’s worth getting up for every day.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
Every time you shop or donate to arc Thrift Stores, you enhance the lives of people right here in Colorado with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
At Orapin, we believe those who are working for the greater good should be known, supported, and celebrated. We give purpose-driven companies the resources and support they need to increase awareness of their work and bring more attention to their cause so they can expand their impact. If you would like to be featured in INSPIRED IMPACT™, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.