April 20, 2012
Imagine spending your days as an aging adult in a beautiful camp-like environment with tall trees, flowers and bushes, nestled in the mountains. There are farm animals, a swimming pool and a wide variety of art and skill classes and opportunities to time with peers. Sounds like something out of a dream, no?
In fact, this idyllic 7.2 acre campus in the rural community of Shadow Hills at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains already exists, operated by Tierra del Sol, a non-profit agency started by a group of parents in 1971, who wanted community-based alternatives from the state hospital system for their adult children with developmental disabilities who were living at home, or nearby in group homes.
The adult program that my colleagues and I visited from Bet Tzedek Legal Services visited as part of the Transitions Project serves a wide swath of ages, from 18-80, although the younger participants are generally there for just a few years before moving onto supported or full employment. In the computer lab, each participant was working individually on their own machine, learning how to use the software, with an instructor from the Adult Education Division of LAUSD standing by to help out with an overhead projector and big screen, so participants can follow along while she provides instruction. (She and the other arts instructors have already been given pink slips by LAUSD due to state budget cuts, but more on that later).
I was especially impressed by the arts classes in drawing and ceramics, with a quiet, creative tone in each room, instructors who clearly knew their subject matter, and aides who made sure everyone including those with physical or more severe disabilities was able to participate. There were some artists who used the most vivid colors to express themselves when oral communication was difficult. Also impressive was the American Sign Language class for the older adults with developmental disabilities, giving them a mode of communication even if their hearing or speech were later impaired by age or dementia.
In addition to campus based learning, all participants are invited to participate in Tierra’s structured community volunteer programs at a variety of nearby community organizations, as well as helping to feed and take care of the chickens, rabbits, goats and sheep. It wasn’t too hard to close my eyes and imagine our son, Danny, enjoying his days there in just a few years, since he is already 17 years old.
Most of Tierra’s funding comes from governmental sources, primarily the state-funded Regional Centers, whose budgets have been hacked to bare bones by Sacramento. And those LAUSD cuts I mentioned earlier create an even bigger problem, with a new $150,000 budget shortfall that Tierra must now privately raise funds to fill.
The only problem for us is that Tierra del Sol is 30 miles away via some of the most heavily traveled freeways in the nation - also, Danny would want a place where he could hear some Israeli dance music, have Kabbalat Shabbat, and eat kosher hot dogs. This type of day program could be easily replicated under Jewish auspices, and has an outside revenue stream to boot. All it takes is some initial funding, a caring heart and lots of sunshine.