Everyone deserves to have quality in his or her life. This may seem like an obvious, indisputable statement, but for adults with developmental disabilities, the expectations and standards for their lives is often lower that what we would consider acceptable for ourselves. Dwindling government funding has limited the resources and diminished the effectiveness of organizations serving the developmentally disabled. Most programs can offer people with developmental disabilities nothing more than a sheltered building to congregate in, with childish activities to keep them busy and occasional field trips into the community as visitors, but not real members of the society. Many programs will not even seek employment for their clients anymore because the job market is so dismal.
At Pacific Diversified Services (PDS), rather than becoming complacent, we continue to strive high and set ambitious goals for our clients and ourselves. Together we adapt and innovate to withstand challenging times and to overcome obstacles in our path. We focus all of our fundraising efforts on ensuring that every one of our clients leads a fulfilling life, with health, security, pride and happiness. In every decision we make about how to best serve our clients, we listen to them, we respect them, and we identify with them. It is easy to identify with them, because their needs and desires are the same as ours. We basically all want the same things in life: friends, family, good health, purpose and a sense of belonging. We want romance, fun, laughter, pride and security too. And for most of us, having a well-balanced life means having a job.
I have always enjoyed working. I remember the first “real job” I got at Loard’s Ice Cream Parlor in Danville where I grew up. My hourly wage as a “trainee” under 16 years old was $3.30 per hour. Compared to the dollar per hour I was used to making as a babysitter, this wage was great! I took that job so seriously, from buying my own uniform (a peach polo shirt with white jeans) to counting back change to the customer, just like my dad taught me to. Also according to dad’s advice, I was to never look idle—I always had a cloth in my hand to wipe down counters if I could not find anything else to do. I find myself sharing these same tips with my clients now, instilling a work ethic in them that will help them stay employed. I loved having my own pocket money and being able to spend it, without even asking my parents. I worked as many hours as I could to get that paycheck as high as possible—buying me freedom and independence, as well as snacks, clothes and lunches. As I went through high school and college I always kept a job, and eventually working with people with developmental disabilities became my main source of income.
Now I get paid to help people with developmental disabilities reap the benefits of having a job. I feel blessed to have chosen a career that is so rewarding. Whenever I develop a job for a PDS client, I get a vicarious thrill, seeing how much being employed changes lives. Recently I helped place our client Amanda in a position working for Spherion, the company that does maintenance/operations for Autodesk Inc. At Amanda’s orientation meeting, the human resource consultant gave her a credit card and explained that it would be loaded up with her pay each week and could be used anywhere that takes Visa. Amanda’s eyes lit up, and in that instant, I saw a flood of pride and confidence wash over her. Even filling out the pre-employment paperwork made Amanda feel grown up and respected. We showed Amanda how to complete her timecard online and helped her decide what to claim on her tax form. I could see how good Amanda felt having some control over her own job and finances, and I know that Amanda will bring much more than diversity to her new workplace. She will offer a different perspective and her enthusiasm and appreciation for her job will be infectious.
Despite the fact that our state funding is inadequate to make employment a reality for adults with developmental disabilities, and despite the fact that jobs are hard to come by even for non-disabled people these days, PDS is successfully finding and keeping employment for individuals who, because of the severity of their disabilities, would not otherwise be considered employable. Twenty-two of our clientele are employed in jobs where they make at least minimum wage ($8.00 per hour), in integrated local business such as Banana Republic, Costco, Silver Screen Video and Woodland’s Market. Nine clients have also started their own entrepreneurial endeavors, walking dogs for Autodesk employees and selling imported toys online.
PDS continues to do much more than provide opportunities for employment. All of our clients are actively engaged in classes at the community college or at local gyms, exercising and socializing among their non-disabled peers. Their days are filled with meaningful, fun things to do like playing bingo, going to the movies or grabbing lunch together in a restaurant. PDS ensures that they are safe and healthy. Despite their severe cognitive and physical disabilities, they are able to enjoy all the good things in life that many of us take for granted. They receive intensive support from PDS with love, dignity and humor.
We are particularly proud of our achievements given the decrease in state funding. In 2009 California actually cut our rate for the first time in 20 years. The rate cut was supposed to be temporary but it remains. The 4.25 % cut meant that we needed to run our program with the same quality, but with $27,000 less per year. We were shocked by the cut, but we took it in stride and used our ingenuity and moral resolve to withstand it. The grants we received from foundations and donations from people like you undoubtedly improved our financial situation and helped us get through some challenging times that other programs did not survive. While running a non-profit organization is difficult in this economic climate, PDS follows the same advice we give our clients, keeping focused on our values and our goals and working harder. Like our courageous clients we keep plowing ahead, and we never give up.
Thank you so much for partnering with us in this important mission to bring quality of life to people with severe disabilities. Our state funding only covers the bare minimum of basic supervision for our clients. It does not fully fund our transportation and does not allow for increases to gas prices. Our charitable contributions enable us to provide enriched staffing ratios for job development, job coaching, program supplies, transportation services that occur in the middle of the day, community-based instruction, self-advocacy training and self-defense training, emphasizing social inclusion as well as fitness and nutrition.
If you can also spread the word about Pacific Diversified Services, a relatively small and unknown program in Marin, please do. We need to advertise the good work we are doing to catch the attention of more donors.
PDS Founder and Executive Director