Annual ARC Ornament brings the Gift of the Magi to the Pine Belt


Clients in the Rise and Shine program at the Arc of Southeast Mississippi have been in holiday mode for several months now as they’ve been busily preparing for the Christmas season.

Each year, those involved in the program designed for adults with disabilities create a Signature Christmas ornament they sell at various events during the holiday season.

But this year the Arc is adding a pottery show, which will be held from 4-8:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14, at the Francis Bounds Fine Art Studio on the campus of the Arc at 65 Bonhomie Road.

This festive event will include light refreshments and Christmas music as guests peruse the pottery selections for the perfect Christmas gifts. Offerings include a variety of options, from this year’s Christmas ornament to larger platters, bowls and much more.

According to Cindy Pennington, Arc executive director, there will also be bird houses and some small canvas boards, which have unique art creations.  

“We will also have T-shirts available that have the same design as the signature ornament of the three wise men,” she said.

This year’s ornament continues along the theme started last year. Last year’s ornament featured a manger scene. This year’s ornament is oval shaped and is embossed with the three wise men bearing gifts.  

“This year, we wanted to do a sequel ornament that would somewhat complement the previous year,” Pennington said. “Our tag on the ornament states, ‘No ordinary birth, yet ordinary gifts. We all have gifts fit for a king, so make plans to use your gifts and abilities in the coming year.’

“As we were designing the tags for the ornaments, we realized what beautiful gifts that individuals with disabilities offer to our community. They too are capable of offering ‘ordinary’ gifts fit for a king. We truly want each person to realize that their ‘ordinary’  can mean so much to an organization. Find that place to connect and offer your gifts, your ordinary. We would love to have volunteers at The Arc to assist with our pottery production as well as other programming needs.”

A variety of glazes are used each year. This year’s colors include birch, red, green, blue, and brown with teal. “We have had many requests for us to do a red ornament, so we have added it this year,” said Pennington. “When you have ornaments with intricate designs, not all glazes will work. They must be somewhat transparent, so you do not lose the design.”

In amongst the Christmas ornaments, the Rise and Shiners recently made more than 1,000 turkey medallions to present to runners in the annual Thanksgiving Hobble then Gobble race held at Lake Serene on Thanksgiving morning. Pottery pieces were made for the winners.

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

The ornaments are handmade by clients in the Rise and Shine program, which provides adults with disabilities an opportunity to be successful in a medium in which they are typically excluded.

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.

Ornaments are continuously added to the inventory. 

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. The Christmas ornaments are part of the nonprofit’s fundraising efforts. The Arc also gets a lot of custom orders for Christmas gifts. 

The ornaments sell for $10 each.  


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.  

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. 

“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.”

 “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.”

Pennington said it’s this time of year that they often “reflect on how blessed we are as individuals and as an organization.  This community has been so supportive of The Arc.  As a result, we are able to offer tremendous services to individuals with disabilities and their families.  No act of kindness, service, or contribution has gone unnoticed.  Also, the biggest gift is the acceptance of individuals with disabilities in our community.  Obviously, this area offers many ordinary gifts and more!”


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