“The world for many of these individuals has just happened to them as opposed to them being able to impact it,” said Will Sanford, executive director of Futures Explored, Inc. “But part of what we do is help them stand up for themselves and help them say, ‘Here’s who I am and here’s what I want.’”
For the past 20 years, Sanford’s organization has been doing just that – quietly changing, empowering and forever making better the lives of those with disabilities through a program called ALIVE (Actively Living and Involved in a Variety of Endeavors).
Serving under the umbrella of the nonprofit organization Futures Explored, ALIVE helps those with significant physical handicaps and/or mental disabilities – ages 18 and up – transition to the next phase of their lives, whether it be school, work or volunteer opportunities.
“The question always is: ‘how do you get them into the adult world?’” said Sanford. “K-12 is focused on that segment of the population but the question then becomes: what will that individual be doing when they graduate? Will they be going to work, college?”
Conversely, older clients in the program – some in their 40s and 50s – have come to ALIVE looking to enhance, enrich and enjoy their lives in more ambitious ways.
Kimberly Williams, 47, is one such person. Born into a state institution, the developmentally disabled Antioch resident lived for a time with family members, but spent the majority of her childhood and adolescence bouncing from group home to group home. Drawn to the ALIVE program nearly 20 years ago, Williams now lives on her own, rides public transit, serves on a consumer-action committee and is also a board member of the Contra Costa Developmental Disabilities Council.
For Williams, the gift of ALIVE has been independence. “I love the fact that I get to make my own choices,” she said. “I live on my own and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Andrew Gamboa has a similar story. A veteran of charitable groups and organizations, Gamboa, 51, experienced his share of programs before finding his niche in ALIVE. Today, the East County resident is an advocate for and a member of a consumer-advocate committee that helps those with developmental disabilities. He lives on his own and works a part-time job in an area restaurant.
Like Williams, Gamboa’s measure of success in ALIVE has been the opportunity to take care of himself. “I get out and about in the community,” he said, “and I actually have a say in what I do and where I go.”
Williams and Gamboa’s stories are only two in a growing anthology of ALIVE’s successes. “We have all age groups of individuals, many of whom just kind of slipped through the cracks,” said Sanford. “We support about 20 folks at Los Medanos College, many with the hope of moving onto a four-year. Some are just coming out of high school and others are older – when they were 20, college wasn’t an option. We also have a group who formed a consumer-action committee that has taken on roles of advocacy. It’s quite a range of folks.”
Funded through the Regional Center of the East Bay, ALIVE has deep roots in East County and throughout Contra Costa. Operating locations in Antioch and Concord, ALIVE serves hundreds of residents, some living independently, many with their families and others residing in group homes based on their particular situations. But all strive to integrate themselves into the community in productive and meaningful ways.
“East County is a tight-knit community that embraces this program and our efforts,” said Sanford. “It’s been very successful.”
For more information on the ALIVE program, call 925-284-2340, or visit www.futures-explored.org.