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Program provides training for mentally disabled

All People Access Community Services helps integrate developmentally disabled adults into community

Posted: September 7, 2009 9:41 p.m.
Updated: September 8, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Brittany Buckingham, 25, reads "Guitar Girl" at the Valencia Library Thursday afternoon through the program All People Access Community Services. APAC provides training, education, and general assistance to adults with development disabilities.

 
For Ana Goldbach, a 43-year-old mentally disabled adult, daily activities like trips to the library allow her to keep busy and productive.

Goldbach, who has held numerous jobs in the past but is currently searching for something new, spent a few hours at the Valencia Library on Thursday touching up on her Spanish reading skills.

"I need to do something to get away from the house," she said. "When I didn't have work, I used to just sit there and watch TV."

Goldbach is one of 47 local residents who participate in All People Access Community Services, or APAC, a nonprofit organization that provides training, education and general assistance to multicultural adults with developmental disabilities.

The goal is to "integrate them into the community," said Karla Posner, assistant program coordinator for the Santa Clarita Valley division of APAC.

"We teach them living skills so they can socialize. We teach them to speak for themselves and make choices for themselves, whether in choosing what they want to eat or choosing what to learn," said Posner, of Santa Clarita. "We set goals for them and they try to accomplish their goals in the areas of life determination, mobility and employment."

APAC provides day-time activities and vocational training for low- to high-functioning adults with developmental disabilities, including mental retardation, autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and other related disabilities.

APAC staff pick up the consumers - a title the organization uses to refer to participants - between 8 and 9 a.m. at their homes. One staff member leads three consumers through three activities per day, including lunch.

Activities can include trips to the library, practicing for their upcoming performance of "Grease" or classes at College of the Canyons such as dance and swim. The week also includes volunteer work.

"They work at Hunger Defense once a week, stocking shelves, hanging clothing, sorting eggs and whatever needs to be done," Posner said.

While APAC is always looking for ways to incorporate vocational training through more volunteer work, finding a place to work for free doesn't always come easy.

"People don't know what to expect when you mention mentally handicapped," Posner said. "It's difficult to find volunteer work."

But there are plenty of productive, high-functioning adults in the program, and enough staff to help them along when they are volunteering in the community, Posner said.

"To me, they're just so great. They just want to help, get into the community and have things to do," she said.

For some consumers, the community is one of the best aspects of APAC.

"Being in APAC is fun. You get to meet new people," said 25-year-old Ken Opalk, of Westridge.

Posner feels she has a special connection with the consumers because of one particular relationship in her life.

"I had a brother, growing up, that was mentally handicapped. He lived with us for 10 years," Posner said. "I was very involved with his life."

Due in part to the time spent caring for her mentally disabled brother, Posner has developed a passion for those she now works with.

"They're just so close to my heart," she said. "I see the growth in them. I see that it makes a difference in their lives."

Take for instance, 27-year-old Karla Aguilar, who is in a wheelchair.

"She's talking so much now and she used to be much more inward," said APAC staff member Jill Garson, of Tujunga.

Garson and staff member Shawnda Davis-Kim said while the job can be tiring, it is rewarding.

"They really become a part of your life," Davis-Kim said.

APAC will host their performance of the play "Grease" at 4 p.m. on Nov. 14. at LARC Ranch. Admission is $5 and proceeds benefit APAC. The organization's Web site is www.apaconline.org.

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