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6:21 PM

A Work of HeART

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A couple of years ago, due to some developmental concerns I had for my daughter, I was introduced to the the Child Development Center of United Cerebral Palsy in Hanford. In fact, since I wasn't driving back then, I had cancelled my first appointment. Maybe I was a little hesitant too. Judy Newton, the program director and Debbie Gibson were very kind to make a much needed visit to my house and were able to arrange weekly in-home visits for my daughter. Araceli Avina was my daughter's first teacher. Later, when I was able to drive, I use to take my daughter to the early intervention program at the center. It was a blessing in disguise. The whole staff was like a family to me and my daughter. 

UCP of Central California houses the Kings County Family Resource Center (FRC) which runs six Parent and Me programs at Avenal, Armona, Lemoore, Hanford, Kettleman City and Corcoran. The Early Intervention Program at Hanford caters children 0-3 years of age, whereas the School Readiness Program is for children 0-5 years of age. Staff includes full time speech pathologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, behavioral support staff and in-home visits. Once a child enters school, they transition from FRC to Family Empowerment Center (FEC) where advocates are trained in Special Education laws and can provide support and advocacy to parents as they begin new relationships with their local school district and other service agencies. 

As UCP-Day approaches this year, I decided to make a visit to the UCP's Adult Center for Arts and Technology in Fresno, and see for myself what goes on in there. I was surprised. Almost 130 students attend the different activities being offered at the center everyday, the oldest being 84 years old Gwen.

"Historically, our students are a segment of the population grossly underserved by engaging and stimulating programs. We are changing that reality." 

Kim Regenerus, director of development and marketing, told me that the center promotes inclusion, access, independence and opportunities for community engagement and life‐enhancement. They create opportunities for the students to interact with the community in positive settings to nurture independence and personal growth.

Classes offered at the Fresno Center include: 

1. Life Skills. 

Designed to focus on skill development that will enhance the independence of the students; classes include communication, community integration, cooking, recreational skills, gardening, hygiene and self-advocacy.

2. Technology. 

Classes utilize a wide range of adaptive software and hardware such as the "mind mouse", touch screens, voice software and "JAWS", a program that provides both speech and braille output. Technology classes include computer instruction, graphic art, computer communication, games and e-mail just to name a few. 

3. Visual Arts. 

Classes include watercolor, sketching, acrylics, tie and dyes, ceramics, clay, mixed media and candle making. Visual arts provides an opportunity to the students to create and sell art for a commission. You can purchase their creations at www.ucpworkofheart.com. Pelco by Schneider Electric ordered 2,500 tiles last year and 2,000 handmade cards this year.

4. Performing Arts.

Geared towards providing students with an expressive outlet for their feelings and emotions; classes include but are not limited to instruction on set design, puppetry, stage make-up, and of course, song and dance. Performing arts supports motor development.

5. Home adaptive program

The Home Adaptive Program is designed to provide educational, developmental and therapeutic support for adults who are unable to participate in center-based programs.  

"If they are unable to come to us, we go to them," says Kim. 

Additionally, the program is able to supplement center-based programs by offering one-on-one therapy for those individuals who qualify. Staff may travel to as far as Madera or Visalia, if need be.

6. Arts and Agriculture in community

In their community‐based settings, students meet and learn from various professionals who represent a broad range of expertise. Students spend 50% of their week in the community‐based setting and 50% in the center‐based setting. The community settings include: 

a) Sorenson Art Studio:

This is where students create art alongside other notable Fresno artists. For each student, art is more than a form of expression, it is about refining motor skills, increasing cognitive functions, creating a place of peace and quiet, and gaining confidence. Students have the opportunity to sell their art which, for many, is the only opportunity to receive a paycheck.

b) Theater: 

Students work with members from the local theatrical community on performing art at the Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. This is also the space in which they perform once a year. They share space with Children’s Musical Theaterworks in Sierra Vista Mall. 

c) Community Garden: 

As part of the agriculture portion of the program, they have leased a third of an acre for a community garden. The American Horticulture Therapy Association reports that “people with physical or mental disabilities benefit from gardening methods that allow for continued participation.” Students play an integral role in the development of the garden and now participate in various projects related to agriculture and gardening. They work alongside community members which include a master gardener and a local hardware store. Gardening tasks are adapted according to each student’s skills. The result is each student contributing in his or her own way while gaining a strong sense of accomplishment and confidence.

We have seen the positive change in physical abilities and mental stimulation of students through UCP's programs. They are increasing their mobility, becoming a part of the larger community, becoming teachers and advocates and increasing their social sphere. More importantly, the student’s lives are being enriched. 

90 cents of each dollar raised goes in directly supporting UCP's six Parent and Me programs and two adult centers in Fresno and Coalinga. Kindly donate here www.ucpday.com/cyberkiwanis

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