Making a transition: Truckee’s developmentally disabled learn independent living skills | SierraSun.com

Making a transition: Truckee’s developmentally disabled learn independent living skills

Renee Shadforth

Colin FisherKathleen Daily stocks napkins at Pizza Junction. Daily, a participant in Choices Transitional Services, also works as an office cleaner at another job.

Standing on her tiptoes, Kathleen Daily stuffs napkins into a dispenser after the lunch rush at Pizza Junction. She loads the napkins one bunch at a time, so the dinner crowd will have plenty to wipe greasy fingers.

Daily doesn’t exactly load the napkins neatly, but she has improved since she started working at the restaurant in March, says her boss.

Each day Daily – a 24-year-old Truckee resident with Down syndrome – clocks in, puts on her apron and stocks the restaurant without much help.

“I’m kind of proud of myself,” Daily says about her job while taking a break. “I make them laugh, and my boss is really nice.” Daily pauses. “I’m still learning though.”

For her two-hour shift at Pizza Junction, Daily exercises her independence. For the other hours in the week, she learns how to be more self-sufficient at Choices Transitional Services.

Daily and the consumers at Choices learn about budgeting, bill paying and locating a doctor. It’s all about “trying to get them as independent as possible,” said Marilyn Moon, director of the day program at Choices.

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“We have to start way back at the basics sometimes,” Moon said.

For example, with grocery shopping, consumers learn how to identify different types of money, pick out nutritional food, budget as they shop and make sure they get the correct change at the checkout.

Participants in the program must be older than 18 and have a developmental disability from birth. Because the Truckee program is so small, the consumers have varying levels of disability.

The Choices Transitional Services Truckee office opened June 2002. Since the day program’s inception, Moon has tried to get her clients (predominantly female) out into the community as much as possible, so they become a more visible part of Truckee.

They visit the seniors in the long-term care unit at the hospital, take at least three aerobic classes per week and visit the teen mother program at Sierra High School and hold the babies (“Their maternal instincts really come through,” Moon said).

“My favorite thing is the outings,” said Aimee Damon, who recently moved into her own apartment on her parent’s property. “I just love getting out.”

Choices also offers independent living services for people who see themselves moving out on their own.

At the Choices center, participants read, practice math skills and create art projects.

Whether they’re at the center or out in the community, their days are usually packed with activity.

State budget presents difficulties

Programs like Choices haven’t always been available for Truckee’s developmentally disabled – Roseville used to be the closest office to eastern Nevada, Sierra and Placer counties. Parents of developmentally disabled in the community lobbied for a local office with Alta Regional Center in Sacramento – which provides Choices with funding from the state.

“There was a need. There wasn’t much in the way of services up here,” said Susan Frishman, service coordinator for Alta Regional’s Truckee office.

Now, with state budget reductions, Alta Regional and Choices have had to look at cutting back their programs. Last year Alta Regional reduced staffing and salaries. This year the organization has had to cut back on funding its vendors, like Choices Transitional Services.

“Since this problem with the budget cuts, I’ve had to ask the consumers for money for activities. I’ve had to dip into their pockets a bit more,” Moon said.

Alta Regional is funded on entitlement from the Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Act, which requires centers to provide services by law. If the state cuts regional center budgets, it would be rewriting past legislation, Frishman said.

A small but intimate group

The Truckee day program is small – on a good day Moon will have a dozen consumers in her group – and the consumers know one another well. If they were in a larger group, they’d be broken up into different levels of functioning.

“I’ve seen friendships grow. Some of these people went from being very isolated for a long time to seeing each other every day,” Moon said. “They just really care about each other. I think that’s really amazing.”

Moon has seen the participants take risks. One participant, Carmen Aguera, used to be afraid of water. Now she participates in aquacize.

Moon has also seen consumers set and reach goals. Daily has lost 12 pounds and 12 inches from her waste through exercise and improving her nutrition.

“This is quite a success for her,” Marilyn said. “She’s getting praise from all of us.”

When the consumers are asked what their favorite part about the day program is, most of say Moon, their program coordinator, is the best part of the program.

And the feeling is mutual.

“Being a part of this feels so good,” Moon said. “It’s like coming to work and getting all your love for the day.”

For more information on Choices Transitional Services, the day program or independent living services for developmentally disabled, call 550-8034.