Louisiana based multiple business owner Daryn Clark applies the principles of ‘Southern Ingenuity’ to his latest endeavor, the mixed martial arts video website Whatsyourfight.com.
By Jonathan Widran
We’ve all heard about good old fashioned Southern Hospitality, but Northern Louisiana based multiple business owner Daryn Clark has put his trademark on a concept called Southern Ingenuity—the name of the successful service provider company he’s operated for nearly 20 years (www.southerningenuityinc.com.php53-3.dfw1-2.websitetestlink.com) as well as an apt description of the progressive, pro-active principles he’s applying to his latest endeavor, the Mixed Martial Arts Conditioning website What’s Your Fight? (www.whatsyourfight.com).
Although Clark began studying kung fu in high school and trained early on in Judo and Tae Kwon Do, it was the tremendous stress of working with Medicaid and running his 140 plus employee companies serving so many disabled people (originally for various small group homes and provider agency programs, then later as president of his own company) that led him back to martial arts in his late 30s.
A longtime instructor at Clyde Stanley’s School of Martial Arts in Minden, Louisiana, Clark has earned a fourth degree black belt in Isshinryu karate and a black belt in Ju Jitsu and competed in national and international tournaments; in addition to Isshinryu and Ju Jitsu, he teaches boxing, San Soo and Muay Thai. For the past four years, he has served on the Isshinryu Hall of Fame Board of Directors as Vice President and has recently received his certification as a Mixed Martial Arts Conditioning Coach, through NESTA (National Exercise and Strength Trainers Association).
While he’s never drawn a salary for his work with students in martial arts, the natural born entrepreneur is excited about the revenue generating possibilities of What’s Your Fight?, a scientifically based online MMA conditioning program for anyone who, as its website says, wants to get into fighting shape.
The site’s 50-plus instructional exercise videos teach the proper technique for each workout for beginners and advanced MMA enthusiasts, with goals set on each exercise regarding sets, repetitions and the pace of the exercise. The site also introduces the NESTA Strength Training Pyramid, which offers a progression based workout that helps users achieve their goals safely and effectively. The GAS theory, Fitts and Posners Three Stage Model of Motor Learning and the study of Kinematic Chains were also utilized in the development of the WYF training progressions. The site also teaches self-defense and relaxation techniques.
At first glance, Clark’s passion for martial arts would seem at odds with his successful “day job” in provider services, but in both endeavors, he is devoted to helping people become the best they can be and reach their highest potential. The chapter he wrote for The Win Book (an anthology dedicated to contemporary business strategies, penned by successful entrepreneurs across the spectrum) is dedicated to the idea that staying physically fit and healthy can be profitable for business.
During his days training people from California to Tennessee in Isshinryu and Ju Jitsu, he realized the enormity of the market for people who need to work out but don’t or are working out but going about it in ways that can be counterproductive or cause injury. He found novel ways to motivate the 122 employees who work out of Southern Ingenuity’s three locations to exercise. First was “Laps For Lucre”: if employees walked a lap around one of the building’s long circular driveways, they earned a buck; if they ran, two dollars. He later amped this up with “Laps For Life.” Besides good exercise, it was a way for his employees to “de-stress” after long days and weeks dealing hands on with the many “consumers” of varying disabilities that Southern Ingenuity provides round the clock primary care for.
When Clark founded the company in 1991 with $150 of his own money, he could never have imagined that he would eventually build a multi-million dollar business with 140 employees; over the years, Southern Ingenuity has collected over $45 million from Medicaid and other government funds to help provide care for people of varying ages and degrees of disability.
After receiving his masters in Marriage and Family Counseling from Northeast Louisiana University, he quickly realized that counseling people his whole life wasn’t going to fulfill him. In 1986, he experienced what he considers a life changing first visit to a small group home (aka an “intermediate care facility”) for men with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Shreveport. He felt a calling to work within the service delivery systems established by Louisiana and supported by the Federal Government to help people stay in their community.
“Shortly thereafter, I began working for Caddo Bossier ARC, running and supervising two, then later three of their homes, which housed six men each,” says Clark. “I grew fast in that company and soon ran their entire residential program. I took some of the knowledge I had from teaching introductory computer classes while still in school and applied it to the paper records that the government demanded. I wound up creating the Active Treatment Paperless System, which streamlined all the notes, schedules and figures related to care giving.
“I started getting job offers from Southern Louisiana,” he adds, “and eventually ran three different companies in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, implementing not only my paperless system but also developing fleet management systems for transportation and a human resource system. I always believed in the concept of dynamic partnership and worked closely with computer programming experts to make these things happen. In 1991, Louisiana implemented and designed a home and community based waiver program that allowed some of the higher functioning disabled men and women that had lived in group homes to move out on their own. As they received an opportunity for independence, I saw the possibilities to help provide them services by starting Southern Ingenuity.”
One of the first waiver providers in the state, Southern Ingenuity has grown to serve more Louisianans in need with offices in Natchitoches, Homer, Shreveport—and for its first 15 years, a base office in New Orleans which was later destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Southern Ingenuity helped over 60 families evacuate that terrible storm and the aftermath that followed. The company was the first provider to be selected in the federally mandated downsizing of Louisiana’s institutions in 1996. “Consumers” who had lived in the institution for over 40 years were now experiencing life in a real community through Southern Ingenuity’s efforts. Clark worked directly with the Federal Justice Department to assure that the services of those in the institution were transferable to their own home in the community. The first people out of Pinecrest Institution are still consumers of SI some 14 years later.
Beyond working to “mainstream” physically and developmentally disabled people, the company also provides assistance to the elderly; with a caregiver’s help, many can stay in their longtime homes rather than be put in nursing facilities. Clark has played a key role in helping the Department of Health and Hospitals make important changes to the services in Louisiana. He was part of a diverse committee that was charged with getting a community based service system accepted by the Federal Government; he and SI were one of only three providers on the 12 person committee.
Services range from children’s services, family training, attendant care services, temporary out of home care, crisis intervention, home and vehicle modifications, supervised independent living, family home assistance and case supervision.
Clark sees a distinct parallel between helping improve the lives of the “consumers” in his company’s charge and his work with kids in martial arts settings, where the skills he imparts build self esteem, self-confidence and an improved attitude towards schoolwork. Some of the higher functioning consumers even participate in some of his classes at Clyde Stanley’s. If you visit the What’s Your Fight? website, you will encounter a bald African American gentleman named Willie, who has been in the care of SI for many years. When he was 19, Willie was living with foster parents but wanted out of that situation. With the help of a lawyer, Clark ensured Willie’s release from foster care and helped set him up in an apartment in New Orleans. After Katrina, Willie moved up north to live near Clark and his family—and he now takes exceptional defense classes and is testing for his black belt.
Another incredible story that reminds Clark of the way he and his company have impacted and improved countless lives involves Kenny and Ed, two men in wheelchairs with Cerebral Palsy who were part of a class action lawsuit regarding the living conditions at an institution in Texas (where Louisiana once farmed out some of its “consumers”) that was more like a concentration camp, barbed wires and all. As plaintiffs in the case, Kenny and Ed were entitled to anything they wanted and needed—and Clark helped them secure their own apartment. Clark has helped both of them work out to the best of their abilities at the DOJO Training Center, and one day Kenny even managed to get out of his chair and back in it without any assistance whatsoever after a time working out on the mats. Kenny now gets into and out of his chair with complete independence.
“I live for these moments when I get to see someone I have taught win a championship fight, or to see Ed’s face light up when he finally got an electric wheelchair and could move himself around,” says Clark. “Both fields are tremendously rewarding on a personal level, and while it gets crazy at SI because Medicaid changes their payment rules every six months, I have three directors to help me sort things out. I may get frustrated at times with the business aspects, but all I have to do is spend hours with my consumers and I remember why I’m doing what I’m doing. There’s a tremendous peace that comes from knowing that what I am accomplishing is making other people’s lives better.
“It’s as if I am hard wired to help people be all they can be and get everything they can out of their lives,” he adds. “I am dedicated to that, it’s in my DNA. This next step I’m taking with the health business with What’s Your Fight? fits perfectly into my life because it is also about helping people do things they never thought they could do. I am hoping that ten years from now, I will be reading success stories about lives that were saved from following my website and its workouts. I’ve never brought my fitness and training ideas to the masses and I am excitied to see where this endeavor takes me and how many people I can help.”