By KALEY CONNER

kconner@dailynews.net

It wasn't exactly the career path she set out to pursue, but Beth Pfeifer said she wouldn't change a thing.

A recent graduate of Fort Hays State University with a degree in interior design, Pfeifer in October became new director of Hays-based Arc of Central Plains. The nonprofit organization advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

"It's definitely not something I pictured myself doing," said Pfeifer, a native of Kinsley.

Then a big smile appeared on her face as she began explaining why she loves her job so much.

"When you work with these individuals ... they love everything that you do and anyone that's willing to help them," she said. "And just seeing the look on their faces, how much they appreciate it -- it's an awesome feeling."

Each local chapter of the national organization looks a bit different, but in Hays, The Arc relies on funding from its thrift store at 116 E. 11th to support local Special Olympics athletes.

There were 35 local athletes in the fall, and the organization has approximately 55 volunteers who coach and help oversee Special Olympics events. Basketball, cheerleading, track, volleyball, bowling and tennis are the sports locally available.

Only a few months on the job, Pfeifer already is looking to expand that list. She's hoping flag football and softball soon will be added, and she also is trying to arrange a soccer clinic with Fort Hays State University.

"I've had so many athletes say, 'Let's do this. Let's do this,' " she said. "I'm like, 'Oh, let's try three to start with.' "

Pfeifer, who began work at the Arc last summer doing community outreach and eBay sales, also has coached bowling and volleyball for Special Olympics.

The world of competitive sports isn't new to her. Pfeifer grew up in 4-H and competed in shooting sports. She later worked with 4-H to help organize shooting events through the state.

"It allows them to grow so much personally, and just to see the friendships they've formed over the years with the different athletes," Pfeifer said of Special Olympics. "It's just amazing to see, because I grew up going through shooting sports. ... To be able to see these individuals be able to do the same thing and build those friendships like I did is just amazing."

The Arc also offers recreational activities such as arts, crafts and dancing, and Pfeifer is hoping to begin a series of technology classes in the near future.

At the heart of her mission, she said, is helping to raise awareness in the community regarding IDD issues. She already has made several friends in her new job, she said.

"So often they're treated ... like you would a little kid, and they're not actually talked to. They're talked down to," she said. "I think that's what has helped me along is that I actually talk to them."