Programs for intellectually disabled people threatened by state funding cuts

<strong>Much of what AR&C clients do at the organization’s facility involves the packaging of small items that go on sale at stores throughout the country.</strong>
Nick Diamantides
Staff Writer

With a 4.25 percent cut in state funding, Advocacy for Respect and Choice (AR&C) needs to raise approximately $200,000 from individual and corporate donations in order to provide the same level of services it has provided to intellectually disabled people for many years.
The AR&C facility is located on a four-acre site just east of the northeast corner of Stearns Street and Lakewood Boulevard. The organization leases the property from the City of Long Beach for $1 per year. The campus contains five buildings, which house the organization’s administration and the various programs.
Some AR&C clients live with their families, and others live in group homes. Many of them are transported to and from the AR&C campus in busses and vans, or cars driven by family members. Others take public transportation, and a few of them drive themselves.
Harry Van Loon, AR&C executive director, noted that approximately 400 individuals depend on the services provided by the organization, which offers four different programs to its clients.
“In our supported-employment program, we get the clients to fill out the application and get them hired at various businesses in the area,” Van Loon said. “When they actually start work and are learning the job, we have our staff working with them 100 percent of the time teaching them the job. As they become more proficient, we start the process we call “fading,” in which we gradually reduce the amount of time the job coaches are present.
Debbie Jones, one of the supported-employment job coaches, explained what she does. “I go out to many of the sites that we have out in the field, and I facilitate for the individuals for whom we have developed jobs,” she said. “We train the clients and build their self-confidence and determination and are there for them in case problems arise.”
Clients who are unable to work at stores, factories, and other businesses work at the Work Activity Center on the AR&C campus for five and a half hours per day, five days a week. Much of what AR&C clients do at the organization’s facility involves the packaging of small items that go on sale at stores throughout the USA. “We have job coaches in the center who walk around and observe the clients,” Van Loon explained. “If a client seems to be having a problem performing his or her task, the job coach helps them to overcome the problem.”
Maryanne Peterson, vocational training supervisor, explained an important aspect of the Work Activity Center. “I break down the various jobs into steps,” she said. “I come up with tasks that can be done by each individual after I assess the client’s ability.”
Van Loon also described another AR&C level of service.“Our special-needs program, which is part of the work activity center, is designed specially for people who have difficulty performing even the most simple tasks,” he explained. “We develop adaptive equipment to help them overcome their physical limitations so that they have access to the same paid work as those who do not have physical limitations.”
According to Van Loon, the special-needs program provides work and paychecks to people who have cerebral palsy, or seizure disorders, as well as those who are sight- or hearing-impaired. The program has more job coaches per capita than are necessary for clients who can function at higher levels. “Also, because of their physical limitations, we have attendants present also, who help them to use the restroom, to eat during the lunch break, and to do other things that might require assistance,” Van Loon said.
According to Van Loon, most AR&C programs have a vocational outcome– paid work. “But we also have a program for individuals who are severely intellectually disabled and will probably never be able to work, he said. He noted that the AR&C Day Training Activity Center (DTAC) provides adult day care and enjoyable activities to severely intellectually disabled individuals. “We teach them how to socialize and offer them a variety of activities like gardening, arts & crafts, dancing, fashion shows, community outings, field trips, picnics and other activities and let them choose the ones they prefer,” he said. He added that in the DTAC, AR&C staff also teach clients how to prepare their own food, pick up after themselves and groom themselves according to their abilities.
Charlotte Schneider, DTAC program manager, elaborated on Van Loon’s comments. “The clients that come in for the day program range from pretty high mentally retarded to profoundly mentally retarded,” she said. “We have some people that have physical disabilities as well. We have several people who have cerebral palsy or are in a wheelchair for other reasons. The main reason that they come to us between 8:30 and 2:30 is just to have meaningful activities during their day instead of just having to stay home.” She noted that about 40 clients participate in DTAC activities.
Nick Diamantides/Signal Tribune<br><strong> Debbie Jones, one of the supported-employment job coaches at AR&C, facilitates for the individuals for whom the organization has developed jobs by training the clients, building their self-confidence and determination, and being available for them in case problems arise.</strong>
“Most of our funding comes through the California Department of Developmental Services, which contracts with 21 regional centers throughout the state,” Van Loon said. He explained that AR&C works with several regional centers in southern California but most of its clients are processed through Harbor Regional Center.
Van Loon explained that in order to be admitted into one of the AR&C programs, a person must be diagnosed as having an intellectual disability, and they must be a regional center client. “If they are not a regional center client, I give them, or their family member or caregiver, the phone number of the regional center that serves the area in which they live,” Val Loon said. He explained that becoming a regional center client is usually as simple as filling out paperwork and being assessed by a medical professional.
According to Van Loon, AR&C, as a nonprofit organization, also gets funding from individual and corporate donors, as well as grants from a variety of organizations. He added that on Oct. 13 AR&C and CSULB Disabled Student Services will host a fundraising dinner at The Grand to benefit both organizations.
“We need the private and corporate donations now more than ever before,” said Marion Lieberman, AR&C president. “The State has severely cut back its funding to our organization, and if we are to continue doing what we do, we are going to have to make up that shortfall from other sources.”
Van Loon elaborated. “We go through a process in which we submit a cost statement to the State so that it can determine the funding it will supply per capita,” he said. “We have been getting a certain amount of money for each of our clients, but the last time we went through that process was 1998. So, while inflation has increased the cost of everything, the State has been giving us funding based on how much things cost 14 years ago.” He added that matters have gotten worse in the past few years as the State has initiated across-the-board funding reductions in order to deal with the continuing state budget crisis.
“The lack of funds has forced us to lay off some of our staff,” Lieberman lamented. “We now have such a large deficit that we recently had to re-do our budget and we are looking at the possibility of more staff layoffs, which will impair our ability to provide the same level of service to our clients– the people who so desperately need our help.”
“We are anticipating $4.6 million in revenues from all sources, including state funding for next year,” Van Loon said. “Our expenses this year are $4.8 million. That means that next year we anticipate a budget shortfall of approximately $200,000. That’s on top of the approximately $158,000 budget shortfall we had this year, and the $200,000 deficit of last year and the $300,000 deficit we had two years ago.”
Van Loon noted that AR&C had a reserve fund to ensure continuity of funding, but now the fund is almost completely depleted. “We had been building it for many years, but after drawing from it for three years, it’s just about gone,” he said.
Van Loon said that while he and the AR&C board of directors would like to expand the organization, right now they are struggling to just keep it at the same level. “We would love to be able to serve additional clients who are now wandering the streets or just staying at home,” he said. “It does not look like the State will increase its funding for our programs in the foreseeable future, so we are having to look for other funding sources.”
“My hope is that my son can continue coming here,” Lieberman said. “It’s a good quality of life for him and something he enjoys. I hope we can sustain these programs for many years to come.”

This article is the second in a two-part series.

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