Page 1

Fall 2012â€

Volume 3 / Issue 1


Celebrating campers and their families JANE KACZMAREK

Warm laugh, big heart ROMA DEL PUERTO

The voice of AbilityFirst

At Camp Paivika in


a young man sets his sights on the future. Story on page 6




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5K 1



Camp Paivika



Jane Kaczmarek AbilityFirst Honorary Chairperson helping “Temples of Joy”

A lifetime of memories and friendship


Mike Murray and Verizon Long Beach


New Autism Criteria from Dr. Pegeen Cronin

28 years of philanthropy


Jerry Doss Heavy lifting does the job

A young bud in bloom

Roma del Puerto


Claremont Kiwanis

Valerie Marnock


The voice of AbilityFirst headquarters






Dear Readers,


Connecting with a love of service


Vijay Sharma The miracle of water workouts



Matthew Blancarte A prince of a lad


The Legacy Society Visionary and caring individuals


On the Move


5K Campaign A race for inspiration

M AG A ZINE Editor

This year, as we celebrate the 65th anniversary of Camp Paivika, we reflect on how AbilityFirst has evolved to meet the growing needs of our participants. We have come a long way since the beginning in 1947, when Camp Paivika was first established. Back then, campers slept in tents, while today, thanks to the generous support from many donors and volunteers, they enjoy a modern lodge, plus five spacious cabins. As the year goes on, we will continue to progress with more renovations to camp, in order to ensure that our participants have a safe and fun place to build friendships and become independent.

$3.6 million

In this issue

In addition to the ongoing renovations of Camp Paivika, AbilityFirst is hard at work reconstructing one of our seven Community Centers, the Harry A. Mier Center, as part of the AbilityFirst Capital Campaign. As you may know, this initiative was launched in September 2007 to rebuild our small, outdated center in Inglewood. The Board of Directors, as part of its on-going effort for fiscal responsibility, re-evaluated the project, and in December 2011 approved a new building design that better fits our current and future needs. In doing so, they set a new campaign goal of $3.6 Million. Thanks to a recent $250,000 foundation grant, we have now raised 78% of our goal!

The AbilityFirst 5K Walk/Run, presented by Comerica Bank and Platinum Equity, was truly a race for inspiration! I am proud to report that with your involvement, support from the AS&F Foundation (formerly called the Forest Lawn Foundation), and our many corporate partners, the 2012 5K Campaign raised $535,000 for our programs! Exciting plans are already underway for the 2013 campaign.


Each day, children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities strive for their personal best with the support and encouragement from our AbilityFirst staff. We could not provide these life-changing programs without your dedication. On behalf of AbilityFirst, I thank you for your support of our mission. Please enjoy the latest edition of the AbilityFirst Magazine! Regards,

Pauline Avendaño

Assistant Editor Sonia Ramirez Writing

Heather York Danielle Weiss Dr. Pegeen Cronin

Design FreeAssociates Photography

Christine Haws

Lori Gangemi President and CEO



TEMPLES OF JOY When you think of actresses these days,

one often imagines a woman sitting rapt in the front row of fashion shows, trying to obtain lucrative endorsement deals, or posing for red-carpet photo ops wearing the latest $1,200 designer heels. Despite her numerous Emmy ®, Golden

past it all the time. I was always fascinated

Globe®, and Screen Actors Guild® Award

by it. It was very heartrending. “

nominations for her role as the hilarious, here might be magazine photos

eagle-eyed mother Lois on the Emmy ®-

of them attending charity galas in

winning Malcolm in the Middle—and being

opulent $6,000 gowns, but how many

the only woman to win American Comedy

actually walk the walk when it comes to

and Television Critic’s Awards two years

supporting those in need?

in a row—she is surprisingly grounded

AbilityFirst Honorary Chairperson Jane

and personable.

Kaczmarek is one of those rare individuals

Her first introduction to AbilityFirst

who walks the walk and then some. She

happened years ago. At the invitation

isn’t someone who indulges in a life of

of a friend, she attended an AbilityFirst

showy excess, but rather embraces hands-

fundraising event, while it was still known

on participation to make a true difference

as the Crippled Children’s Society. And

in the lives of the people who most need

the organization had a way of staying with

community support.

her: “Their office was near my home when I lived in Hollywood, and I would drive

Eventually, “I got very lucky doing Malcolm in the Middle and was being well paid, so I made a contribution in the name of my cousin Kurt, who had Down Syndrome,” she says. “[AbilityFirst CEO] Lori Gangemi then contacted me about serving as an AbilityFirst Honorary Chairperson and I’ve been on board ever since.” “One of the first things I did was visit the AbilityFirst Lawrence L. Frank Center in Pasadena. There, I witnessed this amazing after-school program. What struck me was the normalcy of it, that it was giving children with Down Syndrome, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, and other disabilities as

1 billion



children every year to the AbilityFirst 5K Walk. It’s a great opportunity. My children mingle with a part of the population they


don’t see every day, and get to know that they’re helping—to know that everyone, regardless of ability, is together. They see

persons with disabilities worldwide.

the families being helped by AbilityFirst. It teaches them that everyone is the same and has the same desires: to want to have

(The World Health Organization, 2011)

a good time, to be loved, and to live up to their full potential.” Reflecting on the impetus to be of service to AbilityFirst and to the community at

Jane connects with Long Beach Center participants Jeri Ellen Formby and Art Cheney at the 5K Campaign Kick-Off Luncheon.

“The swimming, games, yoga classes, Girl Scout troop, and other activities really gave them the opportunity to do what my children do on a regular basis.” “I’ve also visited the AbilityFirst Harry A. Mier Center in Inglewood, and I am so moved that places like these exist. The staff is so thrilled to be there. They love working with the children and adults, and they’re there because they love sharing their lives with them. The Centers are just such joyful places. They’re thriving, bustling places that make you realize that we’re all in this together, that children are children no matter what their capacities are, and that the kind of love these children bring to our lives is overwhelming. The Centers are important,

“Participating with AbilityFirst has enriched my life even more than I think it has theirs.”

impossible to raise, warning that the child would completely destroy the family structure. So the doctors advised his mother, my Aunt Ruth, to put him in a state-run institution. She had to give up her parental rights to be eligible for state funding,” she laments. Jane’s family would see Kurt on a handful of occasions, but then he was put into foster care and adopted by his foster parents—who also effects of Thalidomide—and raised him

usually there. We all try to show up whenever we can. In fact, each year at the Gourmet Festival of Fall, there’s an auction for a dinner catered by Lawry’s

as your dinner guest.’ I really enjoy that.” Jane also volunteers her time helping to find potential donors for the AbilityFirst Capital Campaign for the Joan and Harry A. Mier Center.

been a part of several events, including

Jane has gone so far as to make AbilityFirst

the Gourmet Festival of Fall. My fellow

were vehement about the children being

alongside their biological children.

a single mother to three children. “I’ve at the AbilityFirst 5K Campaign and

children with Down Syndrome. They

Jaclyn Smith and Lee Meriwether are

will get not only a delicious meal, but me

television work—not to mention being

encouraged parents to institutionalize

adopted a girl born limbless from the

Jane is as involved with AbilityFirst as she

sitcom Whitney and ongoing theater and

her cousin Kurt. “He was born in the early

AbilityFirst Honorary Chairpersons

Restaurants. I say, ‘Whoever wins this

includes her role as Candi on the NBC

large, Jane shares the compelling story of 1960s, and in that era the doctors really

beautiful places. They are temples of joy.”

possibly can be, despite a busy career that


that all humans are the same. “I take my

There are

‘normal’ a life as possible,” Jane recalls.


“I never knew about the adoption until years later. He died at 48, which is a long lifespan for someone with Down Syndrome. His funeral was packed with members of his adoptive family. It was a strange experience: His adoptive mother thanked my Aunt Ruth for making him available to be adopted because he had brought so much love and light into their lives. It was a very bittersweet experience to see how it might have been had he remained in our family. It was very powerful.”

a family affair, including her children in events so that they can see for themselves

Continued on page 23




The voice of AbilityFirst headquarters When you first chat with energetic 1 to 1.5 million Americans lives with an autism spectrum disorder. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009).

Roma Hevia Del Puerto, it’s apparent that she loves to talk to people.


nd that seems fitting, given that for the last four years, she’s been the upbeat voice that listeners hear when they call AbilityFirst’s headquarters.

“I feel very blessed to be a part of AbilityFirst,” she says. “I love working here!” Roma’s journey to AbilityFirst has been years in the making. At birth, doctors told the parents of now-46-year-old Roma that she would be severely disabled, and that it was unlikely she’d be “normal” nor be able to do anything in life. Her parents’ immediate response to these doctors was “Not our child! She will do everything she wants to!” And it was with that love and drive

“I feel very blessed to be a part of AbilityFirst. I love working here!”

that her parents and her older brother/best friend Rene ensured Roma did have as “normal” and active a life as any child. As she grew up, it was clear that the doctors were way off the mark—as well as a teacher, according to Rene: “Her first-grade teacher said that she would have a lot of obstacles.” While Roma does have mild disabilities, she’s lived a full life—including enjoying stable, full-time employment. In the nine years before joining the AbilityFirst family, Roma was involved with another employment program for people with disabilities. It provided some useful office experience, but Roma always felt she could do more. And so when that program was on the verge of cutbacks, she was fortunate enough to hear about the bilingual receptionist position in Pasadena. Her then-boss even assisted her by polishing up her resume. In the years since she became “AbilityFirst headquarters’ voice,” Roma has grown by leaps and bounds, realizing the potential she Continued on page 22


A fresh look at the new autism criteria Autism dispatches Pegeen Cronin, Ph.D. UCLA Assistant Clinical Professor Clinic Director, UCLA Autism Evaluation Clinic Autism is now believed to occur at the frequency of one in 88 people and one in every 54 boys. And the frequency of the diagnosis is on the rise. So far, no reason has been found to explain this increase in autism—except that the diagnostic evaluation process is better. If today’s diagnostic procedures were the same as they were 30 years ago, the frequency would probably still be one person in 500. Yet soon, the new diagnostic criteria is intended to be clearer and more in-depth: With the May 2013 publication of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (or DSM5), the criteria for diagnosing autism spectrum disorder (ASD) will look beyond the current DSM4 criteria of identifying and separating out social and communicative deficiencies in individuals. Research continues to show that these deficiencies do not function separately from each other, because social abilities foster development. Social development is a key driver for learning to communicate so social skills tend to develop before learning to talk. The goal of the new diagnostic criteria is not to change who is already identified with autism, but to identify and appropriately describe individuals across the autism spectrum using a framework helpful for all ages, all developmental levels, and all degrees of severity. The new social/communication criteria for diagnosing autism are: a) Deficits in social/emotional reciprocity; b) Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction; and c) Deficits in developing and maintaining relationships appropriate to the individual’s developmental level (looking beyond relationships with caregivers). While there are many behaviors that might represent any of these criteria (such as decreased eye contact), some might include an over-focus on few play activities, or a lack of sharing in enjoyment across play, such as baby games, as well as a lack of initiative for play or social interactions with people the same age. Any delays in development or a loss of skills requires evaluation. Also, similar to the DSM4 criteria, there is a new category for restricted, repetitive behaviors (RRBs) that has been expanded. One of the four criteria includes the repetitive use of communication previously found in the DSM4 criteria under communication Continued on page 27

More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes & cancer combined. Boys are four times more likely than girls to have autism. Source: http://www.autismspeaks. org/what-autism/factsabout-autism




A lifetime of

When Camp Paivika was established in 1947, no one could predict that 65 years later, it’d still be going strong.


estled in the lush San

have their own retreat that many of

possibilities, not just for that summer but

Bernardino Mountains, Camp

the population already enjoyed each

for decades to come.

Paivika was one of the nation’s

summer. And so it was with passion

first camps specifically designed for

and perseverance that several people, in

children and adults with disabilities. And

particular a Los Angeles special-education

while it features a range of camp activities

teacher named Ms. Lucia Laufeld, and

and opportunities for friendships and fun,

Lawrence L. Frank, co-founder of the

“what makes the program very unique

Crippled Children’s Society, brought that

is the level of care provided to campers

dream to life.

with special needs, which is not found

In the 1950s, there were about 100 child campers each summer, as well as many adult campers, where separate camper sessions were held for each group. Camper Terry Wetzel, who has cerebral palsy, recalls how he and others enjoyed trips to Santa’s Village in Big Bear, getting

After being granted a special use permit

ice cream at Lake Arrowhead, riding

on 12 acres by the U.S. Forest Service,

around the mountains in the back of a

the camp opened on July 1, 1947. Those

truck, and classic pastimes like horseback


first campers really roughed it, staying

riding and campfires.

Camp Paivika began, as all great things

in tents amid the construction of cabins

do, with a dream, way back in the

and common buildings. To name the new

1940s. The dream was that children

paradise, campers held a contest, settling

and adults with special needs—mainly

on the Cahuilla Indian word “paivika,”

those with polio (which was epidemic)

which means “dawn.” Indeed it was a

and developmental disabilities—would

new dawn with promises for children

elsewhere,” says Kelly Kunsek, Camp Director since 1995.

and adults who now had a haven of

In fact, many of the activities were those still enjoyed today: adaptive sports and recreation such as wheelchair-friendly hiking, swimming, and archery; arts and crafts including ceramics and photography; and large-group activities, like dressing






12-acre Camp Paivika opens in Crestline, CA, as one of the nation’s first camps specifically for children and adults with disabilities. Campers sleep in tents.

1950s Child campers averaged about 100 per summer. Fun included trips to Santa’s Village and getting ice cream at Lake Arrowhead.

1960s up and performing skits, singing, dancing,

A newly constructed, state-of-the-art

Wild West theme weekends, and fireside

lodge—able to accommodate an increase

stories. In short, it was party time, and

in campers and provide year-round

every camper and staff member was an

programming—was opened.

eager celebrant.

of cabins and hosted campers with a broader array of disabilities, including cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, blindness, and deafness. “It was a happy time,” says former counselor Carol Ann Benson (1965-’66). “When they arrived, there were no tears. Most knew what was ahead and could hardly wait for the fun. The mood was infectious.” Campers would look forward to playing in rock bands, movie making with a Super 8, and hearing concert pianists. By 1997, Camp Paivika’s growth spurt was evident at its 50th anniversary fete:

“Campers get to have an experience that most American children take for granted—such as having a slumber party.” —Camp Director Kelly Kunsek



By the mid-1960s, Camp Paivika consisted

Campers sleep in cabins and enjoy dozens of adaptive activities as well as dances and singing. Campers witness Neil Armstrong’s moon walk on a blackand-white TV.

The camp celebrates 50 years. A new lodge is built to accommodate an increase in campers and to provide year-round camp sessions.




The camp is again expanded to welcome former Camp Joan Mier campers following the consolidation of the two AbilityFirst camps. Upgrades include a new cabin, a larger healthcare center, and other improvements.

2009 Camp Paivika learns it will lose state funding. Camp alumni form Paivika Buddies Campership Campaign to raise $50,000 annually to help offset the loss. Generous foundations begin to grant funds to AbilityFirst Camp Paivika for camperships.



Almost one in three campers attends on scholarship. Thanks to generous donors, no camper is turned away because of lack of funds. Continued on page 26

It was no small feat, requiring 20 years

generations to come. Longtime donor Joan

of fundraising and planning. But, Camp

Mier’s legacy lives on at Camp Paivika,

Paivika had simply outgrown itself, and

with a lodge named in her honor. (The

the new lodge reflected the camp’s

upcoming new AbilityFirst Joan and Harry

bright future.

A. Mier Center in Inglewood will continue

Ten years later, at the 60th anniversary bash, alumni and staff observed another

to honor the Mier name by having the new center named after her and her husband).

upgrade, including a new cabin and a

Now, in 2012, Camp Paivika maintains

larger healthcare center. This allowed the

that joyful spirit, that larger-than-life

accommodation of more campers when

promise, the merging of all peoples,

Malibu’s Camp Joan Mier consolidated

distilled in lasting friendships and

with Camp Paivika, and welcomed the

memories shared not only on the Paivika

ever-increasing numbers of campers—75%

Buddies website (

of whom are adults—a destination of

but in video retrospectives at anniversary

unforgettable fun, though nowadays it

celebrations. Reflective of its growth,

might include karaoke and gaming.

Camp Paivika anticipates 350 summer

Consolidating the two camps was a strategic move by AbilityFirst, to increase and preserve the camping program for

campers this year.


Including 24-hour-a-day medical care and




playful haven where the focus is helping

personal assistance, campers “get to sleep under the stars and have the true camp

The backbone of Camp Paivika’s activities

a “can’t” attitude. So when campers

experience. Nowhere else in Southern

are social development and increased

excitedly arrive with their duffel bags,

California can they have that,” Kelly

independence. Every program, activity,

they’re already taking steps toward

sums up.

and interaction is integrated with these

growth. “They get to let go from protective

goals. Ultimately, Camp Paivika is a

environments and are able to socialize,

campers adopt a “can” rather than

develop, and learn independence. And

“Paivika is not only a camp, it is a life event. It provides moments that make you feel differently about something and think differently for a lifetime!” —Terry Wetzel (camper from 1951-64, staff member from 1965-96)

they get to be kids who connect with other kids, adults who connect with other adults,” says Kelly. “I remember looking into a cabin room once, and there on the floor were a bunch of girls, whispering and laughing, holding flashlights,” Kelly recalls. “It didn’t matter that some might need helping walking or whatnot. It made me smile to see the camaraderie and connection that was happening.” Continued on page 26



A young bud in If you were to meet 13-year-old Valerie Marnock today, you would never guess about the many traumas she has endured for most of her life.


orn at 24 weeks at under two pounds—

form of security,” says Program Supervisor Delia

and having been exposed to drugs and

Valenzuela. “Now, it isn’t mentioned.”

alcohol in utero—baby Valerie faced a

Over the last few years, her social skills and

life of medical complications and disorders.

verbalization have improved substantially. There

After being adopted by the loving Marnock

are still ups and downs with Valerie’s behavior,

family, her hospitalization continued until

but to Carol, she has made huge strides, such as

almost the age of two, when finally she came

talking from the time she wakes up until her head

home and lived on continuous oxygen and 30 daily medications. Soon after came the diagnoses: Panhypopituitarism (a rare condition in which cortisol and thyroid hormones are not produced), severe developmental disabilities, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, ADHD, Disruptive Behavior Disorder, and Raynaud’s Disease (cold hands and feet, prickly sensations, and skin discolorations). Needless to say, it’s been a challenging road for both Valerie and her family. But her mother Carol was determined for Valerie to experience the joys of childhood as any healthy child would, including learning to swim. So when Valerie’s tracheotomy was permanently removed, Carol searched for a facility. When Carol was referred to the Lawrence L. Frank Center in Pasadena, she was delighted. “I jumped at the chance,” she recalls. Since starting at the Center in 2005, Valerie’s progress has been steady. “When Valerie arrived, she was very dependent on her Elmo doll. She used to bring it to the Center, then started leaving it at home. She would talk about it constantly as a

“I like to ride the horses. Last year I rode Arthur. I also like to go swimming with my friends! And I like the singing and the dancing.”

hits the pillow at bedtime. “Her true personality has begun to shine,” Carol happily notes. In 2010, Valerie was allowed to go to “sleep-away camp” for the first time at AbilityFirst Camp Paivika, where she found a wonderland of fun. “I like to ride the horses. Last year I rode Arthur,” Valerie says of one of her favorite activities. “I also like to go swimming with my friends! And I like the singing and the dancing.” And, of course, there is her camp companion: her Elmo doll. “I like sleeping with my Elmo. I just wish that Elmo could come with me to the Center!” “Valerie is a very vibrant girl with lots of energy! She enjoys camp and her counselors quickly fall in love with her playful spirit,” says Camp Director Kelly Kunsek. “Each year that Valerie comes to Camp Paivika, she grows a little bit more comfortable with the routine and program. We have definitely seen her blossom at camp.” Now an effusive, excited camper, Valerie pleads, “I want to go NOW. I keep asking Mommy when Continued on page 27






11 million – Number of people with disabilities 6 years and older who need personal assistance with everyday activities. These activities include such tasks as getting around inside the home, taking a bath or shower, preparing meals and performing light housework. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010)






he participation and generosity of local corporations and

leaders are vital to sustaining AbilityFirst’s mission to give all it can to its own community. And with the support that Verizon’s Long Beach office provides, AbilityFirst has a reliable partnership that continues to yield rewards for all.

“AbilityFirst is an organization that has impacted Verizon employees directly and benefitted Verizon as a company.”

Spearheaded by Verizon’s Mike Murray, Director of Government and External Affairs, starting a relationship with AbilityFirst was a simple choice. Verizon employee Todd Herman told Murray about the breadth of much-needed services AbilityFirst offers children and adults with disabilities, and he immediately felt compelled to get involved with the AbilityFirst Long Beach Center—which offers after-school enrichment programs, adult day programs and Friday night socials, as well as aquatic programs. Knowing Murray’s background, it’s easy to see why the partnership came to be. Highly lauded as a community leader who embodies service and volunteerism, Murray’s sense of being a team player began at Santa Monica College, where as a football player he recognized that “it takes every man on the field to score a touchdown.” After college, he served as a Marine in Vietnam, living in a small village. “I felt the reward of working to better a community and a circumstance,” he recalls. Beginning his professional career, he continued that ethic and sense of duty, believing in mentorship and actively contributing wherever he could help others. This made him a perfect candidate for Verizon, which has a strong commitment to Corporate Responsibility and generously donates via the Verizon Foundation. In 2011 alone, they gave $66 million in grants and performed 674,000 employee volunteer hours. And so with that meshing of Verizon’s and Murray’s ideals, began volunteering with the AbilityFirst Long Beach Center in 2007.

Continued on page 26



©Verizon 2012


At Verizon, we envision opportunities to use our networks and technology to help solve some of society’s greatest challenges – like education, health care and sustainability. Since 2000, we’ve invested more than $650 million to help make our communities better places to live and work. Verizon is sharing its technology, resources and passion so that together, we can be even more successful.

Check our success at Share yours @VerizonGiving


The sunshine of Vijay Sharma

From a wheelchair to walkathons: the miracle of water workouts


ith a shattered lower back and knees from an accident, 75% of her body arthritic, and very high diabetes, 66-year-old Vijay Sharma’s doctors told her she

would be in a wheelchair for life and should go on disability. Her determined response? “I will not!” She knew that if only she had the resources, if only she had a place to focus on her recovery, she could fight to regain her health.

And when her daughter told her about AbilityFirst’s Claremont Aquatics Center 18 months ago, she decided to see it for herself.

“Never give up! Do not sit idle. You have to change mind AND body. You must have the determination.”

Barely able to walk 50 steps in 10 minutes while wheezing, Vijay encountered Center Director Julie Martin, who reflected her hopes and started her on the path to recovery. First, it was one aquatic exercise class a week, which felt unbearably long and painful. A few months later, it was two classes a week, then four. Within eight months, she saw her doctors at Kaiser Permanente—who were amazed that she could bend and walk with ease. Not only that, but she’d lost 70 pounds and her diabetes levels had dropped





10% 64

10% of people ages 18 to 64 have disabilities. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011)

significantly, from up to 500 down to 120 on good days. This was

The doctors who lead Vijay’s diabetes group at Kaiser are so

indeed a miracle they had never seen.

inspired by her, they’ve asked her to share her success story with

As time passed, Vijay continued to work harder. She went from taking 18 pain pills a day to just one. She tried a hula class. And in the last three months, she has expanded her exercise regime to include jogging, belly dancing, and the very vigorous Zumba, a high-cardio dance and exercise class. She has lost a total of 100 pounds and can now walk four miles at a time. In fact, when she participated in a 5K walkathon, she completed it in only 48 minutes—a figure she likes to taunt Aquatics Center lifeguards with, whose times she beat in the 5K. There is a glow in her face and energy in her voice when she talks about her amazing transformation. “Without AbilityFirst, none of this would have been possible. The staff is very encouraging and all have good moods. And Julie has been so supportive,” continues Vijay.

the group on a monthly basis. “They asked me what did I change in my diet, what am I eating now—I tell them that I eat the same things. It was just the exercise. Now the doctors even tell patients about AbilityFirst.” They see her upbeat personality, a powerhouse of energy who is full of laughter, and now call her “Sunshine”—a fond nickname she also goes by at the AbilityFirst Claremont Aquatics Center. Vijay is now very much an ambassador for AbilityFirst and its many programs. She says she tells everyone she meets about them, and is eager to share this very magazine article with Kaiser, the Upland Senior Center, and others. “Never give up! Do not sit idle. You have to change your mind AND body. You must have the determination,” she says with fervor. “You have to have someplace to go, and if there was no AbilityFirst, I would not have been able to change my life.”




AbilityFirst participants celebrate as they achieve their own personal goals during this year’s 5K Run/Walk.

A race for inspiration


his year’s Derby Day 5K Run/Walk supporting AbilityFirst

AbilityFirst would like to thank our sponsors and volunteers for

on April 7, 2012 at Santa Anita Race Track marked our most

their support and commitment to children and adults with special

successful 5K to date!

needs, as well as the AS&F Foundation (formerly known as the

The popular event, which was presented by Comerica Bank and Platinum Equity, drew a crowd of over 1,500 AbilityFirst friends and supporters, and raised $535,000 to benefit the participants at each of our 24 AbilityFirst locations.

Forest Lawn Foundation) who challenged AbilityFirst to go the extra mile by matching each dollar we raise above $350,000 to a maximum match of $75,000. See you at next year’s AbilityFirst Walk!

“I participate in the 5K because I want to give back to AbilityFirst for everything they have done for me, said 23-year-old Pasadena Work Center participant, Alex Parrish. “The 5K also gives me the opportunity to participate with my family,” she continued. Decked out in green t-shirts, Alex, and her fellow AbilityFirst friends and supporters could be seen dashing towards the festive finish line, which was lined by the Laker Girls cheering loudly with medals in their hands ready to distribute. “When I was handed my medal by the Laker Girls, I felt like I had won first place!” said Alex. Medals, which were awarded to every participant, symbolized new milestones reached, and the amazing accomplishment of personal goals that were met throughout the day.

“I participate in the 5K because I want to give back to AbilityFirst for everything they have done for me.” —Alex Parrish, Pasadena Work Center


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28 years of philanthropy for AbilityFirst With the Claremont Kiwanis Club, AbilityFirst has had dozens, if not hundreds, of loving volunteers who’ve provided service for almost 30 years.


t is only with volunteers—the

Eventually, this fundraiser became an

thoughtful, proactive individuals

annual event that offered silent and

who graciously donate their time and

live auctions, with delicious catering

their skills—that AbilityFirst continues

lovingly made by the very hands of the

cleaning, helping ensure the installation

to succeed in giving the special-needs

Foothill Guild. Swick himself acts as the

of playground equipment purchased by the

community first-rate resources that truly

live (and lively) auctioneer, stirring up

Rotary Club,” adds Swick. And with the

better their lives.

excitement for every item and contributing

auction proceeds, they determine where

his impassioned spirit. Fifteen years in,

the money will most help the Center.

the event moved its current location,

“Usually we’ve met at the Center for

Claremont’s beautiful Candlelight

a catered lunch and a tour,” he says of

Pavilion, and added live entertainment.

this endeavor.

“The Claremont Kiwanis Club (CKC) is a community service club. And that really says it all,” says Jess Swick, who serves on both its Community Service and Finance and Fund Raising Committees. “For over 85 years, we’ve been active in so many areas of our town that it is really impressive to describe.” Whether it’s donating money, developing local programs, or offering their own

These days, much of the event preparation is helmed by AbilityFirst staff and volunteers, but it never would have come to fruition without the CKC.

Swick has nothing but praise for the efforts of AbilityFirst. “They provide such a great community service for the young folks who need this special attention

Yet that’s not all that the Kiwanis Club has

and assistance. And the staff has always

done for AbilityFirst.

appreciated the value and the help

labor, the CKC is always seeking to

“Over the years, we’ve helped with many

provide for those in need. So in the early

projects at the Claremont Center: painting,

provided by the CKC,” he shares. The Claremont Center’s own Center

1980s, when then-President Dr. Dan Kiley

Director, Julie Martin, has been a Club

suggested finding a new service project,

member for almost three years. “The best

they contacted AbilityFirst and the Foothill

part of being a Kiwanian is belonging to

Guild, a women’s group that supports

a unique service family and knowing the

AbilityFirst. Together, they planned an

impact we make on people we serve. It

auction to raise money for AbilityFirst.

is very rewarding. I like knowing that I

“My job is not to enlist additional public support, but to help where I can, when I can, and how I can,” Swick observes.

Top: Kiwanis member Jess Swick. Left: Claremont Center Director Julie Martin

am making a difference with an amazing group of people,” says Julie. Continued on page 23





earing 30 years of age, Jerry Doss was not where he wanted to be in life.

While he enjoyed his time volunteering with a local police department, it was not a job. He longed for financial independence and a sense of purpose in his life. He did not yet know, however, how soon his life would shift direction and give him the


independence he desired. After getting a referral to AbilityFirst Employment Services from the Harbor Regional Center, Jerry, who is developmentally disabled, found a place where he could get the mentoring, guidance, and support he needed to make his dream come true. He began his journey with AbilityFirst job developer Mei Yee, who immediately saw his drive. “Jerry was eager, and he was always on time for our meetings and completed his homework assignments,” she says. “He expressed a strong interest in working for UPS, so I reached out to them.” Mei contacted UPS Human Resources Supervisor Rigo Juarez to talk about considering Jerry for employment. Jerry was invited to UPS’s Cerritos location, and having already honed his interview skills, he was ready for whatever lay ahead. The

2% 21%

While people with disabilities make up only


of the U.S. labor force their unemployment rate is

62% greater than people without disabilities.

(U.S. Dept. of Labor, November 2011)

first step was to attend UPS’s company information session. Next, he was invited to interview for a package handler position. After his interview, he toured UPS facilities and told them he’d like to work for them. “We found Jerry to be a good candidate for the position,” says Juarez. Next it was just a matter of a vacancy opening up. In early October 2010, Jerry got the exciting news that he was hired. With pride, Jerry began working his hardest. Part of this meant a daily commitment to the gym, something he does for himself as well as for UPS. “I love going to the gym,” he says with a smile in his voice. Early in his employment, Jerry met with AbilityFirst job coach Kenny Kuch two or three times a week to address various needs, such as honing his professional socialization and keeping occasional job stress at bay. As the months went on, Jerry didn’t require as many meetings with Kenny, who says that “Jerry is a very hard worker and a very good employee.” Mei echoes these sentiments. “As Jerry worked closely with us and his supervisors, he caught on quickly. Jerry is always determined to complete what is asked of him.”

Continued on page 22




A Prince of a lad This spring, Irene Reta wanted her autistic 14-yearold son, Matthew Blancarte, to do something many children his age would jump at the chance for, or perhaps take for granted: to attend a dance.


hile she pulled dressy clothes from his closet and put together an ensemble for him, Matthew pouted and insisted he didn’t want to go. But Irene persisted, telling him, “Just go. Just try it!” And so she dropped off a stubborn, but

stylish Matthew at the dance, and told him to have fun. Hours later, when she drove to pick him up, she wasn’t sure what she’d encounter. Would Matthew be mad? Would he be sulking? The reality was quite the opposite. “I saw him outside dancing and singing, and as he climbed into the car, he was elated,” she happily recalls. “I’m the prom prince!” he shouted. They had a drawing to choose the prince and he got the crown.” It was indeed a night to remember, and a far cry from the then-7-year-old Matthew who had yet to attend AbilityFirst’s East Los Angeles Center. “Back then, Matthew was becoming a big kid fast, and it could be a challenge to take him

“I feel very blessed for what AbilityFirst has done for our whole family.” —Matthew’s mother Irene


with me to the store or to the laundromat,” Irene says. “Sadly, he could hardly interact with people. He’d cover his ears when people talked to him, and hide under tables. It broke my heart,” said Irene. At her wit’s end, Irene was relieved to hear about AbilityFirst from her son’s caseworker. “We decided to give it a try.” When he began, “Matthew was very shy and would not interact with staff and his peers. He secluded himself from others. He didn’t like to participate in any group activities or outings,” says Center Director Monica Alcantar. But that didn’t last too long. Gradually, there were noticeable changes in Matthew—like his new abilities to listen and communicate. “He learned just by watching the other children there, seeing how he should

5-17 20

behave, as well as from staff. He likes the staff members that he works one-on-one with;

1 in 20 or 5% of school-aged kids (5-17) in the United States has a disability. That’s 2.8 million children and teens. (2010 U.S. Census; The American Community Survey, 2010)


he likes Monica and Liset Morelia a lot. Actually, he loves every one of them!” Irene says. As the years passed, Matthew developed a much-needed skill that eased Irene’s load as a parent considerably: patience. “I could now take him to the grocery store, and if he asked for a toy or a video and I told him I’d buy it another day, he wouldn’t throw a tantrum. He would understand. It was amazing! I couldn’t believe how patient he’d become! Now I can take him ANYWHERE.” Another aspect Irene loves about AbilityFirst—besides the highly trained and attentive staff—is that the children are given many opportunities they might not have elsewhere. One aspect is knowing that the fun is not confined to the Center alone. “I knew the children were being taken on field trips, and one day Matthew and I drove past a bowling alley. He pointed at it and told me all about his visit there, and how well he played.” AbilityFirst is very much a family affair as well. “We all get involved in the events, like the AbilityFirst 5K Run/Walk.” Recently at the Center, thanks to a grant from Rose Hills that provided much-needed computers, “we saw a drastic change in Matthew,” Monica says. With assistance from Liset, Matthew learned to log on to the computer to play his favorite video games and sing along to Disney songs—and the result has been his everblossoming socialization. There’s a second outcome from what Matthew considers playtime. “We see Matthew use adaptive technology that helps him to explore more independently, helping him develop better fine and gross motor skills,” adds Monica. Matthew’s transformation has not gone unnoticed in his community, either. “The parents of autistic children at Matthew’s school see how amazing he is doing, and they all ask me, ‘What are you doing?’” Irene says with enthusiasm. “I tell them it’s all because of AbilityFirst. I tell them to talk to their children’s caseworkers about it, and to visit the Center.” Irene’s passion for AbilityFirst extends beyond the classroom. “I tell everyone I see—every parent with a child with a disability, people on the street—about it. I just can’t stop talking about how wonderful AbilityFirst is. I feel very blessed for what they’ve done for Matthew, and for our family,” she reveals with gratitude.




The voice of AbilityFirst headquarters Continued from page 4 always knew she had. “At first, Roma needed to be trained to fine-tune her skills as an AbilityFirst receptionist,” says her supervisor Vikki Showe-Gaither. And so, under the tutelage of Vikki, job coaches, HR, and the Development Department, she has been

As to her growth, Vikki adds that Roma is

A natural social butterfly, Roma has definitely

now more aware “of her responsibilities and

made her mark. She loves promoting

does her best to meet the expectations of

AbilityFirst, whether it’s telling people about

the position. Once she got the hang of being

the organization, participating in events,

in a front office, she blossomed into a great

or selling AbilityFirst-branded products—

receptionist.” She benefits from ongoing

including modeling the products in photos!

training to further hone her skills, expand abilities, and build more confidence.

When asked about how having a disabled person on staff has enhanced the diversity of

rigorously trained in office duties and has

Rene, her brother, saw changes in Roma as

the office, Vikki shares that “it sends a special

risen to every challenge before her.

well. “Working for AbilityFirst has changed

message to those who come in contact with

her a lot. It has built up her self-esteem and

Roma because people with disabilities want

her confidence.” He’s noticed changes at home

to be treated just like everyone else. Roma

as well, where Roma lives with Rene and his

is so personable and helpful to so many

wife. “With enhanced self-worth from her

people—including myself—that we often

job and feeling that she’s part of something

forget she has any disability.”

“Roma has received training and support to learn how to use two phone systems, answer phones, professionally respond to inquiries, and perform general office duties. It hasn’t been formal or in a classroom—it’s been on the job,” Vikki states. Other duties include data entry and working on special projects and mailings.

important, Roma is very happy now. She is more outgoing, talking more to her friends on Facebook and going out with them,” he says.

And that’s the kind of great impression we could all be so lucky to leave, isn’t it?

Heavy lifting does the job Continued from page 19

attentively about safety, quality, performance,

But it’s not just a job to Jerry. It’s proof that

and other vital issues.”

he has the skills and confidence to succeed

This is evident to his UPS supervisor,

When asked about how having a person with

Maurice Guevara, as well. “What Jerry likes

disabilities on staff has enhanced workplace

best about his job is the physical aspect and

diversity, Guevara asserts, “Jerry is not seen

And Jerry’s final say? “I am so happy to be

being part of a team,” says Guevara. While

as having disabilities. His fellow coworkers

at UPS!”

treat him just like one of the guys. Jerry is

many friends in his work area who he can

also a pleasure to have as an employee.”


bilityFirst, a leading nonprofit organization in Southern

Services, visit programs_adult_employment.aspx.

adopted the name AbilityFirst to better

employment, training, placement, and

reflect our mission, our vision and our

accessible housing. Additionally, we

commitment to celebrating the unique

provide an accessible camp, Camp

abilities of every individual.

Paivika, for both children and adults.

1926 California, provides programs

To learn more about AbilityFirst’s Employment


Who we are

strong team member.


Jerry doesn’t have a mentor at UPS, “he has reach out to for advice.” “He also listens

at what he puts his mind to, and that he’s a

and services to children and adults with

With 24 facilities throughout Southern

physical and developmental disabilities

California, including seven community

Our mission

such as autism, cerebral palsy and Down

and three work centers, AbilityFirst has

AbilityFirst provides programs and

syndrome. Established in 1926 as the

served over 100,000 participants in its

services to help children and adults with

Crippled Children’s Society of Southern

lifetime by offering a broad range of

physical and developmental disabilities

California, our mission is to help

programs for children with disabilities,

realize their full potential.

individuals with disabilities realize their

as well as recreational and socialization

full potential. In 1999, the organization

programs for adults in the form of


Leave a





he Legacy Society recognizes those visionary

and caring individuals who have included

AbilityFirst Legacy Society Members

AbilityFirst in their estate plans. Their commitment

Charles F. Axelson

and dedication are shining examples of generosity

Estate of Nellie P. Bailey

that will help AbilityFirst continue its efforts to help

Estate of Robert J. Baker

Mr. & Mrs. Herbert L. Harger

Estate of Margaret May Rawlinson

Estate of Edward Augustus Harpstrite

Mr. & Mrs. Ted Rogahn

Mary Alice and Bob Braly

Margaret P. Holland Molly Isenberg

Residual Trust of the Schneppershoff Family Trust

celebrate today the transformations you will help to

Dean Wm Carr, Jr., Trustee, Dean Wm Carr Jr. Trust U/A 8/22/97

make possible in the future!

Estate of Isabel K. Chissar

Estate of Robert & Marylouise Jackson

Ercille I. Christmas

Estate of Ralph Jones

Estate of Cloyes Collins

Kupfer Charitable Trusts For the Benefit of David Furth & Harmon Hook

children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities realize their full potential. By becoming a member of the AbilityFirst Legacy Society, you can

For more information on planned giving or

Estate of Roberta Bode

on becoming a member of the Legacy Society,

Estate of Albert Crooks

please contact Juliana Otis: 626-639-1734,

Raymond G. De Peters, or Gail Stewart-Garber:

Joetta Di Bella


Mr. & Mrs. Jim Douglass

You can also visit us online at www.abilityfirst.

Estate of Katherine J. Fitzgerald Maria French, Ph.D. Mr. & Mrs. Estabrook Glosser Gary & Jackey Gray

Happily helping “Temples of joy” Continued from page 3 Another underpinning of Jane’s service

Verona Ingrum

Estate of William & Arna Maas Estate of Kurt Meyer Michael G. Morris Mr. & Mrs. John Mullin Juliana Otis Kenneth and Jacqueline Parker Paul M. Propp

is much to be done and the personal rewards are more than worth it. “Participating with AbilityFirst—helping to

Estate of Ben J. Schafer

Family Trust of Irene Stone General Trust of Nathan Stone Estate of Gregg A. & Carol A. Teskey Estate of Loretta E. Timbrook Trust of Bertha E. Waterman For the Benefit of William Robert Kistinger Trust of Marianne F. Waterman Dr. Jerry Wulk Lois M. Zelsdorf

28 years of philanthropy for AbilityFirst Continued from page 18 AbilityFirst values this partnership

ethic is summed up by one of her favorite

raise awareness and funds for them—has

tremendously, and we’ll forever be grateful

quotes from author Marian Wright Edelman:

enriched my life even more than I think it

for all the benefits we’ve received from the

“Service is the rent you pay for living.” Jane

has them. The people who don’t give to their

Claremont Kiwanis Club’s selfless giving and

says, “I really relate to that. Edelman also

community don’t realize that you get so much

unwavering dedication. Here’s to another 30 fabulous years!

says that the higher your intellectual or

more back than you give. The focus of what’s

financial gifts, the higher your rent. So

important in your life becomes crystal clear

being on a television series for many years,

when you’re active in a population like this.”

I realized I had a pretty high rent to pay for that kind of tremendous luck.”

From her years of experience with AbilityFirst, Jane notes, “you see how these children and

Part of that rent also includes working with

adults bring light and love into the lives of

the Children’s Defense Fund and, in the past,

others. The times I’ve visited the Centers,

Jane’s own foundation: the Clothes Off Our

they are just as full of life as they can be. And

Back Foundation, which auctioned celebrity

I really thank AbilityFirst for giving them the

awards-show apparel to benefit children’s

opportunity to have all of these wonderful

charities. It’s a lot of work, but she finds there


If you are interested in becoming an AbilityFirst volunteer, contact Chris Otero at 626-243-4841 or


AbilityFirst on

the move 3








1. Louis Jones  Supported Employee Louis Jones gives a heartwarming speech during this year’s Seasons of Giving Event at L.A. Live. Louis, who works for AEG as a security guard, says that AbilityFirst has made his “dreams come true!”

4. Advocacy  AbilityFirst President and CEO Lori Gangemi, Manager of Partnership Development Chris Otero, and Director of Government Affairs at Strategic Counsel Mel Assagai meet with Senator Kevin DeLeon to acquaint him with AbilityFirst.

2. Camp Paivika Clean-Up Day  Camp Paivika CleanUp Day is an annual event put on by the LA5 Rotary Club and the East Los Angeles Rotary Club to prepare for the campers arrival in the summer. In this photo, Camp Director Kelly Kunsek is hard at work gardening by the pool.

5. Hooray for Hollywood  During this year’s Hooray for Hollywood event, participant Dion Cornejo of the Lawrence L. Frank Center poses with Cat Woman; his favorite Batman character.

3. Comerica Bank  After receiving a $35,000 check for the AbilityFirst 5K Campaign from Presenting Sponsor Comerica Bank, AbilityFirst Board Member Mike Dokmanovich, AbilityFirst President and CEO Lori Gangemi, and AbilityFirst Long Beach Center participants and staff pose for a picture with Lakers Star Andrew Bynum and Comerica Bank Staff.

6. Mordena Moore  AbilityFirst Board Member Mordena Moore poses with her award at the Los Angeles Business Journal’s Women Making a Difference award reception. Mordena was honored for her dedication to helping those with special needs at AbilityFirst. 7. Sequoia National Park  Lawrence L. Frank Center participants visit Sequoia National Park. The outing, attended by participants Eli Underwood, Andrew

Arellano, Kelvin Sui, David Near, Valerie Escatiola, Carla Salazar, and staff Arsho Garlanian and Ismael Aranda, was a fun and exciting adventure for all! 8. Candlelight Pavilion  The Candlelight Pavilion event, benefitting the Claremont Center, was a blast! Guests Roger Elkins, Connie Elkins, Joyce Kilmer, and Vickie Robertson enjoy dinner while watching this year’s musical, The Music Man. 9. Pasadena Work Center  Assembly Member Anthony Portantino of the 44th District visits with Meghan Jaramillo of the Pasadena Work Center during their Cinco de Mayo celebration. 10. Advocacy  AbilityFirst President and CEO Lori Gangemi, and Manager of Partnership Development Chris Otero, meet with Assembly Member Charles Calderon to introduce AbilityFirst and urge him to reduce harm of budget cuts to the individuals we serve.











11. A Musical Extravaganza  The Harry A. Mier Center’s A Musical Extravaganza event was a fantastic cultural celebration with delectable cuisine and wine. This year, the event featured live music by artists such as Seville and Marva Smith, and honored President and Chief Operating Officer of the Union Bank Foundation Carl A. Ballton, Award-Winning Vocalist Eloise Laws, and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. 12. Push America  On June 8th, national members of Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity, via the organization Push America, joined the AbilityFirst Lawrence L. Frank Center for a carnival celebration. Push America sponsors the Journey of Hope ride, which is a crosscountry bike ride from San Francisco to Washington D.C. The purpose of the ride is to raise awareness and funds for individuals with disabilities. During the event, Center participants Lily McDonald and Jasmine Gerald rock out to their favorite song!


13. Hooray for Hollywood  Lawrence L. Frank Center participant Mark Anderson smiles for the camera with Barack and Michelle Obama, Dolly Parton, Lucille Ball, and Lady Gaga during this year’s Hooray for Hollywood event on May 11th. Hooray for Hollywood is an annual event at the Lawrence L. Frank Center where adult program participants dress up in their red carpet best, take photos with celebrity impersonators, and partake in a dance party. 14. 5K Campaign Kick-Off Luncheon  During the AbilityFirst 5K Campaign Kick-Off Luncheon held at Santa Anita Race Track on March 1st, AbilityFirst Board Chair Richard R. Frank, AbilityFirst President and CEO Lori Gangemi, Actress and AbilityFirst Honorary Chairperson Jane Kaczmarek, Jockey Chantal Sutherland, and Actress and AbilityFirst Honorary Chairperson Jaclyn Smith pose for a photo.

15. Opus Bank  During a special grand opening reception, Opus Bank in Pasadena generously donated $7,500 to AbilityFirst in honor of our programs and services. AbilityFirst President and CEO Lori Gangemi, and Pasadena Work Center participants Louis Jones, Christie Warfield, and Sarah Eckstrom pose with Sandra D’Amato-Flores and Katie Steele from Opus Bank. 16. Seasons of Giving  AbilityFirst Honorary Chairperson Lee Meriwether takes a break from ice skating during this year’s Seasons of Giving event held at L.A. Live on December 21st. On this very special day, AbilityFirst was honored by AEG, and Lee Meriwether spoke about her involvement with AbilityFirst. 17. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa  Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa poses with Kendra Hawkins and Willie Townsend of the Harry A. Mier Center at the African American Heritage Month Celebration on January 25th. The exciting event, put on by the Mayor and City Council, was a celebration to officially declare the opening of African American Heritage Month in the City of Los Angeles.


A lifetime of memories and friendships Continued from page 9

confidence to the new skills they put to use

Says past counselor Benson, “By far, my


favorite memory is of all the wonderful

Since losing state funding in 2009, Camp

staff and campers I met. Two are my best

Paivika has worked especially hard to

friends, and 10 to 15 are in steady contact

obtain money so that every camper who

and dearly beloved.”

wants to attend can. Alumni formed the


Paivika Buddies Campership Campaign

“We have very high camper and family satisfaction,” says Camp Director Kelly Kunsek. “Parents know that their campers are in a safe place having a good time with a great staff. Sometimes caregivers might need a little time for themselves. I’ve been told ‘Camp Paivika has saved our marriage.’” The time apart from children and caregivers often “strengthens the family

Continued from page 8


from their magical time in the mountains.

Camp reaches a major milestone and celebrates its 65th anniversary with a carnival on July 28th.

to raise $50,000 each year, and the Camp Paivika development team tenaciously pursues grant writing. Yet with 1/3 of campers attending on scholarship and with increases in campers, donations are needed now more than ever. To make an online donation, visit and select “Paivika Buddies Campership Campaign.”

unit,” says Kelly. And families are elated

For information about attending a camp

to see so many positive changes in their

session, visit to

returned campers, from newfound

view video, download the brochure, and learn about our programs.

Verizon also ensures that the Center has

Murray says that he deeply feels the

free data and television connectivity,

rewards of working so closely with

which are essential to its operations.

AbilityFirst: “Verizon and I, personally,

“Their technology support has been

value our relationship with AbilityFirst

an amazing addition to our program

greatly. It’s an organization that is an

curriculum. Our participants can now surf

example of partnership,” he says. “We are

the web and enjoy supervised access to

very proud of being able to contribute to

e-mail as well as social media like YouTube

their work. It’s an organization that has

and Facebook,” Barbara enthuses. “They

impacted Verizon employees directly and

use it every day and love it!”

benefitted Verizon as a company.”

to every nook and cranny of our Center.

She further extols Verizon’s latest

His enthusiastic message of service is one

Our site has never looked so good!”

contribution: “In April, the Verizon

he imparts far and wide, encouraging

Foundation funded a Verizon READS

people who’ve never volunteered to

project grant that will help pay for staff

just try it, even if for one day. “There is

and program materials. Now we’ll have

something for everyone. The opportunities

activities that our participants can use

to volunteer are boundless. There is much

to improve their functional literacy and

work to be done and there’s a job for

communicative skills.”

everyone who wishes to join in. Let your

Connecting a love of service and AbilityFirst Continued from page 12 First up: An AbilityFirst Volunteer Day, with Verizon employees sprucing up the Center: cleaning, organizing, a new paint job, you name it. “It was like Center Makeover Day!,” says Center Director Barbara Schlosser, who has been with AbilityFirst for 15 years. “More than 50 Verizon volunteers were on hand, tending

And when Verizon and AbilityFirst staff teamed to man the phone banks for a KCET/PBS fundraiser, “it was another wonderful experience,” Barbara shares. “Through Verizon’s partnership with KCET, two of our families, the Hermans

heart lead you!”

and the Kurtzes, were able to share

“We truly appreciate Mike Murray’s

their stories—which helped to promote

and Verizon’s continued friendship and

To learn more about becoming an AbilityFirst

AbilityFirst and what we do.”

generous support,” Barbara gratefully

corporate partner, please contact Lori Gangemi

sums up.

at or call (626) 396-1024.


A young bud in bloom Continued from page 10

lot of new friends. We are happy that she’s

who have typical children will never

joined the Center family!”

understand. I still worry about Valerie no

she is going to pack my suitcase. I can’t

Valerie also attends the Pasadena Center

wait. It’s so much fun!” Camp Paivika is

on Saturdays during the school year.

truly the highlight of her year, and she

Valerie’s mother has become an active

exclaims, “I get to go to both of the kid

volunteer at both the Pasadena and

sessions this year!”

Claremont Centers by helping with

“People in my adoption support group

fundraising, attending on Saturdays, and

are always commenting on her outgoing

giving more time in August.

personality,” Carol says. “They ask me

In summer 2011, Valerie began to attend AbilityFirst’s Claremont Center on

matter where she is or who she’s with, but I know that if there are any problems, the AbilityFirst staff can handle it and let me know ASAP.”

what positive things get to me, and I

weekdays. Valerie affectionately calls it

Carol sums up her family’s relationship

“Julie’s camp,” a nod to Center Director

with AbilityFirst with gratefulness. “These

Julie Martin. “Valerie is never at a loss for

people are life savers to parents with

words,” says Julie. “She comes in during

disabled children, no matter what their

the summer and gets very excited to go

age. The staff is trained in how to deal

on our many fun field trips. She’s made a

with all kinds of situations that people

Autism dispatches Continued from page 5

functioning—especially in social settings

might help service agencies recognize how

such as school or birthday parties.

social and communication abilities overlap

abnormalities. An added criterion is over- or

While these new additions improve the

under-sensitivity to things like daily noises

diagnostic criteria for ASD, the challenge

(dogs barking, toilets flushing), tastes, and

of accurate assessment, however, will

touch. These over- or under-sensitivities

continue. This is because whenever an

always say ‘She’s my three-million-dollar baby with a million-dollar smile. Her smile will get you every time, though it won’t get her out of trouble. But, boy, does she know how to use it!’”

and how the absence of a language delay or age-typical language scores do not rule out social difficulties or an autism diagnosis. Because ASD presents differently in every

were originally identified as part of autism

evaluation is performed, multiple sources

person and differently across a person’s

but not specifically identified in the DSM4

of information must be reviewed because

lifespan, we still need to continue to

criteria. At least two of the criteria must

autism is inconsistent across people and

identify and advocate for individualized

be met from this category—though they

activities. For example, individuals with

interventions that will let us ensure that

can be seen at any time in development.

autism are often described as having

everyone with ASD develops to his or her full potential to become independent.

Behaviors in these areas might include doing the same action with a few toys repeatedly, or looking closely at toys or objects to “see how they work.” So in

Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S. (

This probably starts with not only making sure parents, teachers, and providers understand how autism can look different from one individual to the next, but also

the RRB category, a diagnostician might not directly see these behaviors or might

difficulties with eye contact, yet many

to appreciate that each individual has the

see only one, and he or she will need a

individuals with autism demonstrate eye

potential to be a contributing member of

comprehensive history of the individual to

contact with parents or when talking about

his or her community—no different from

learn what other RRBs have occurred.

something particularly interesting. Yet, in

someone who does not have autism in

Overall, ASD symptoms must be seen in early childhood (although they might not show until social demands reveal a person’s limited capacities). In DSM4, social and communicative deficits had to be seen before three years of age; now, there is no age cutoff. Finally, the symptoms must limit an individual’s day-to-day

other situations and with different people,

the community. Everyone struggles with

the person might not make eye contact.

learning in some area, and individuals with

Also, because everyone changes over time

autism are no different.

and responds differently to teaching and intervention, an individual might show more or fewer challenges at different points in their lives. The new criteria will probably not affect the evaluation process—but it

Visit the DSM5 website for more information: Visit Autism Speaks to learn more about signs of autism:



Directory HEADQUARTERS 1300 East Green Street Pasadena CA 91106-2606 626.396.1010 626.396.1021 fax


Pauline Avendano, Sr. Director of Marketing Laura Beck, Director of Human Resources Joel Bronson, Director of Information Technology Dan Detwiler, Facilities Manager Syed Kazmi, Controller Isis McDonald, Sr. Director of Business and Employment Services Neomia Phillips, Director of Housing Kelly Privitt, Sr. Director of Programs

CAMP Camp Paivika Kelly Kunsek, Director Mail: PO Box 3367 Crestline CA 92325 Location: 600 Playground Drive Crestline CA 92322 909.338.1102


Claremont Center Julie Martin, Director 480 South Indian Hill Boulevard Claremont CA 91711 909.621.4727 East Los Angeles Center Monica Alcantar, Director 154 North Gage Avenue Los Angeles CA 90063 323.268.8178 Harry A. Mier Center Monique Watts, Director 8090 Crenshaw Boulevard Inglewood CA 90305 323.753.3101 Lawrence L. Frank Center Michael Barkyoumb, Director 201 South Kinneloa Avenue Pasadena CA 91107 626.449.5661 Long Beach Center Barbara Schlosser, Director 3770 East Willow Street Long Beach CA 90815 562.426.6161 Newport-Mesa Center Joy Thomas, Director Mail: PO Box 3985 Costa Mesa, CA 92628 Location: 1060 Paularino Avenue, Room A Costa Mesa CA 92626 714.546.6727

Anaheim Program Cindy Valencia, Director 2660 West Broadway Anaheim CA 92804 714.821.7448

EMPLOYMENT SERVICES Eddie Zhang, Supported Employment Manager 3447 Atlantic Avenue, 3rd floor Long Beach, CA 90807 562.570.3667

HOUSING AbilityFirst Apartments Hemet 1360 East Acacia Street Hemet CA 92544 951.766.7089 AbilityFirst Apartments Irvine 14501 Harvard Avenue Irvine, CA 92606 949.559.5902 Crown House 3055 East Del Mar Boulevard Pasadena CA 91107 626.440.9090 Ivy Glen Apartments 133 North Cedar Street Glendale CA 91206 818.241.3888

Pacific Rim Apartments 230 South Grevillea Avenue Inglewood CA 90301 310.672.7221 Rancho del Valle Apartments 6560 Winnetka Avenue Woodland Hills CA 91367 818.347.1440 Sea Breeze Manor Apartments 2067 Alamitos Avenue Signal Hill CA 90755 562.494.9086 Sierra Rose 3053 ½ East Del Mar Boulevard Pasadena CA 91107 626.578.0118 Villa Malaga Apartments 4704 East Dozier Street Los Angeles CA 90022 323.980.8402


Lakeland Manor Apartments 13331 Lakeland Road Santa Fe Springs CA 90605 562.944.9650 Maple Park Apartments 711 East Maple Street Glendale CA 91205 818.507.1969

L.L. Frank Work Center Fennie Washington, Director 3812 South Grand Avenue Los Angeles CA 90037 213.748.7309 Pasadena Work Center Peter Yoou, Director 2570 East Foothill Boulevard Pasadena CA 91107 626.449.5662

Moreno Valley Apartments 24545 Bay Avenue Moreno Valley CA 92553 951.247.0230

Paul Weston Work Center Richard Briseno, Director 6530 Winnetka Avenue Woodland Hills CA 91367 818.884.5112

Members Estabrook “Skip” Glosser Carol Llewellyn Michael Prabhu Herbert H. Simmons Mark Trabing Betty R. Wilson

Corporate Officers Lori E. Gangemi, President and CEO Steven Schultz, CFO Keri Castañeda, Chief Program Officer (CPO)


Executive Committee Richard R. Frank, Chair Steve Brockmeyer, Vice Chair Ray Cherry, Secretary Jay Henneberry, Treasurer Mark Fedde, At Large Member Members Rick Arcaro Mike Dokmanovich Berlinda Fontenot-Jamerson Maria French William Hawkins John Kelly Carol Llewellyn Mordena Moore

Angela J. Reddock Randy Repp David M. Seastrom Sanford “Sandy” L. Smith Jonathan Thomas Patricia Vick

HONORARY CHAIRPERSONS Jane Kaczmarek Lee Meriwether Jaclyn Smith

HOUSING GOVERNANCE BOARD Jose Marquez, Chair John Elizalde, Vice Chair Darrin Lyons, Treasurer David Oesterreich, Secretary

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JOIN US AT Camp paIvIka Camp paIvIka

Located in the beautiful San Bernardino Mountains- Since 1947, Camp Paivika has offered creatively adapted programs that enable and encourage full participation in activities promoting health, fitness, and independence in an atmosphere of hope and possibility.

* Learn why 95% of campers and their families rate their Camp Paivika experience as “good” or “excellent” * Based on 2011 post-session survey of campers and their families.

Campers benefIt:

safety and seCurIty:

• Independence – Improve listening and communication skills

• Camper Safety – All Staff receive full background checks

• Confidence – Gain social skills and make new friends

• Registered Nurses –To meet medical needs

• Explore – 81% of campers try something new while at camp • Creative Expression – Arts & crafts, drama and skits, creative movement and music • Promote Health and Build Motor Skills – Horseback riding, swimming, and adaptive sports

• Trained Staff – Trained in proper lifting, feeding, hygiene, and dressing • Camp Director – Over 25 years of experience with AbilityFirst camping programs • Supervision - Minimum of 1 staff to every 3 campers

Inquire within or call us at (909) 338-1102


Please join us for

the 38th Annual

Hosted by

Jann Carl

A gourmet food and wine tasting event

PARTIAL LIST OF PARTICIPANTS Altamura Winery Beyond the Olive Bristol Farms The Bruery Café 140 South Chefelle Personal Chef & Catering Service The Counter Craftsman Brewing Company Domaine Galevan El Cholo Café Gale’s Restaurant Garofoli Golden State Wine Company Green Street Restaurant Jones Coffee Roasters Julienne Fine Foods and Celebrations Kensington Caterers Kimberly Jones Wine Selections Loring Wine Company Marston’s Restaurant Mi Piace Italian Kitchen, Bakery & Lounge New Belgium Brewing Company Noir Food & Wine Pasadena Baking Company Peter Paul Wines Roy’s Restaurant Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse San Antonio Winery Slingshot Wines Stone Brewing Company Tam O’Shanter Wine Warehouse

The Historic Laurabelle A. Robinson House in Pasadena Sunday, September 30, 2012 4-7 pm Silent & Live Auctions / Musical Entertainment Proceeds benefit children and adults with special needs at the AbilityFirst Lawrence L. Frank Center and the Pasadena Work Center. Purchase Tickets online:

More information contact: Julia Walkup – 626.243.4852

AbilityFirst Magazine Fall 2012  
AbilityFirst Magazine Fall 2012  

AbilityFirst Magazine has a fresh new look! Read it now!