Arc Gateway has been opening doors for people with developmental disabilities since 1954.
But the parents who made Arc what it is today actually began their work back in 1947. A small, dedicated group of local parents wanted their children to have every opportunity to learn and grow, so they opened a one-room school house.
In 1954, these parents drafted a constitution, appointed Mrs. Pearl Nelson their first president, and became members of the state and national Associations for Retarded Children. In the years that followed, these visionary founders were joined by others who shared their dreams.
Over time, the parents who began Arc saw their children’s needs change. They responded by developing new programs, including the Pollak Activity Center and the Pollak Rehabilitation Workshop. These day programs gave adults with developmental disabilities an opportunity to continue to learn and grow – and even opportunities to work.
Meanwhile, programs for children continued to expand as experts realized that early intervention was critical to development in children with or at risk of developmental delays. In 1974, Arc Gateway began the Infant Stimulation Program; and in 1977, the Pearl Nelson Center became the Pearl Nelson Preschool, serving children ages two to five.
While the day programs provided venues for children and adults to learn and work, aging parents began to see a need for residential support programs. As a result, Arc’s first group home, the Women’s Residential Training Center, opened in 1978.
Arc continued to expand and provide opportunities for greater independence. From enclaves at Armstrong World Industries, to supported employment and supported living programs, Arc’s services reflected the changing needs and interests of the people they served.
Today, The Arc Gateway serves more than 800 children and adults. Programs range from early intervention services, pediatric therapy and child care to retirement programs for senior citizens. Day programs include self-help training, basic academic classes and work opportunities at Arc and throughout the community. Residential programs include six group homes in the community and support for individuals living in their own homes.
From its humble beginnings in a one-room school house, The Arc Gateway has continued the commitment of those first parents and members. We still strive to offer children and adults with developmental disabilities opportunities to contribute to our community and choose where they will live, learn, work and play.
Pollak Training Center Program Manager
A native of Pensacola, Dawn VonStein graduated from the University of West Florida with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood and elementary education. She began working at The Arc Gateway in 1993 as a support specialist for the Women’s Training Center where she felt she could use her teaching background to help teach daily living skills to the women at the group home. When asked why she has made her career at The Arc Gateway she says it is, “because there are few other places I could work where every day is different, I feel like I’m making a difference in someone’s life, and I am truly loved by those I serve.”
PALS Program Director
Dondie is an innovator with more than 15 years’ experience driving results in program management, marketing, and media production. In addition to her studies in Journalism and Communication Arts at the University of West Florida, Dondie has received certification in Nonprofit Management. Dondie is very active in the community serving on board of directors for area nonprofit organizations, secretary/treasurer for UWADA, Loaned Executive with United Way, and volunteer with Special Olympics.
Special Projects Manager
Jennah began her journey with The Arc Gateway in the fall of 2016 as an assistant to Human Resources. During her time with the agency, Jennah has acquired her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology along with a Certificate in Human Resources both from The University of West Florida. Jennah can be considered a “jack-of-all-trades” thus securing her role as the Special Projects Manager (Office Manager). She also takes an active role in her community as a member of Pensacola Young Professionals.
Níta J Hooks
Senior Adult Program Manager
Níta started working at the Arc Gateway in January 2019 as the Senior Adult Program Manager. She began working in the Developmental Disabilities field in 2015 as a Support Coordinator and has worked as Supportive Living Coach and a QMRP. Níta earned an Associate Degree in Pre-Nursing, a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, and a Master of Education in Mental Health Counseling. She also worked as a Licensed Clinical Mental Therapist in Mississippi with all populations. “It is a joy to get up each morning, come into the program and work with such a wonderful group of people who keep me on my toes. I wouldn’t trade this job for anything in the world.”
Human Resources Manager
Residential & Community Service Director
Rebecca is a Pensacola native who graduated from the University of West Florida with a degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education. She has been a part of The Arc Gateway team for over 2 decades, starting her career with us in 1997. Rebecca’s first position with The Arc Gateway was a Support Specialist in the Pal/Ace program. From that role she became a Group Home Manager with one of our female group homes, then moved into her current position as Director of Residential and Community services. “I love making a difference in the lives of people we serve and assisting them to achieve their goals and gain skills toward independence.”
Children’s Services Director
MaryAnn Bickerstaff began her career at The Arc Gateway in 1986 as an Infant Toddler Developmental Specialist soon after completing an internship with the Pearl Nelson Center’s Early Intervention and Preschool programs at the completion of her Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education at the University of West Florida. After working in this role for four years, MaryAnn became the Early Intervention Coordinator and in 1990 assumed the position as Children’s Services Director. During this time, she is proud of the program’s growth and diversity in funding, including grants and fundraising activities, but she is most proud of the impact her team is making in the lives of children every day. MaryAnn is very engaged with community partners and serves on the Board of the Early Learning Coalition and the Operational Support Team of Achieve Escambia among others. MaryAnn is a proud to be a native of Pensacola.
Chief Advancement Officer
Chip graduated from the University of West Florida with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Arts in 1989 and has spent his career in marketing communications, fundraising and special events. He’s worked in a variety of industries and nonprofits, including The Arc Gateway in the mid-1990s. He founded and managed his own brand intelligence firm, Emagination Unlimited, for 18 years before deciding to follow his passion and “return home” to the nonprofit world. Mission-focused work is in his DNA.
Chief Financial Officer
Lea joined The Arc Gateway in 2021, bringing with her over 18 years of experience in finance and accounting. Lea earned her Bachelor’s degrees in accounting, finance and management at the University of Mobile in Alabama and a Master’s in Business Administration at the University of West Florida. Lea is also a Certified Public Accountant in the state of Florida. For several years, she has worked in the nonprofit industry, both domestically and internationally. As a Pensacola native, Lea is passionate about meeting the needs of the Northwest Florida community. In her spare time, she enjoys hanging out with her family and living up to her “boymom” title.
Chief Operating Officer
Cathy Lauterbach has shared her talent with The Arc Gateway for over two decades. A California native, Cathy obtained a bachelor’s degree in management from St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California. She began her employment with the agency in 1995 as an employment specialist. From that role, she became the program manager at the Pollak Training Center before moving into the position as director of Residential and Community Services, and now her position as COO overseeing adult programs at The Arc Gateway.
Chief Executive Officer
Missy has been working in the field of developmental disabilities since 1997. Throughout her career she has performed in a variety of roles including direct care, case management, fundraising and administration. Her extensive knowledge base and experience allows her a unique perspective and understanding of issues facing the disabled community. Missy’s passion and dedication can be felt in her decision-making process as she always puts the best interests of those being served by the agency first. In her spare time, she can be seen acting with a local dinner theater acting troupe. Missy holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Elon University in North Carolina and is originally from Virginia.