Mountain Shadows Community Services Department – 

Changing Lives One-on-One

By Sheryl Wilde

 “Mountain Shadows does more than provide residential, transportation, child care and site-based day program services,” says Arlene Galvan, Director of Program Development, Mountain Shadows Ancillary Services. “Through the Mountain Shadows Community Services Department – the Tailored Day program, Independent Living Services, and Respite program – we are bringing our services out into the community to help individuals where they live!”

The Mountain Shadows Tailored Day Program in Action

 While most of us are familiar with the word “autism,” many of us may not understand what life is really like for an autistic individual. Here’s a description through the eyes of one young man:

“I think the best way to describe how the world feels to me is – suffocating. It’s like all the dials are turned up to 11, everything is a shade too bright, too loud and too fast for me.

“Sound is a real problem for me. I feel like I can hear the electricity flowing through wires. All the noise, all the conversations, the radio, the TV, all the creaks and sounds of daily life are amplified and come at me all at once. I can’t process it all.   It’s overwhelming. Every sound feels like the pounding blow of a hammer to the side of my head.

“Visual stimuli are bad for me too. Bright lights and colors bore into my retinas like laser beams. I lose the ability to track objects, judge depth, or even to figure out which way something is facing. It makes face-to-face conversations really hard. Looking into someone’s eyes literally makes my eyes water. It’s so intense that I just want to curl up in a corner and die when someone looks into my eyes.

“Growing up, I knew I saw things differently. I used to think I was insane. Now at least I know I’m autistic, rather than just completely insane.”

Brett is a 23-year-old man with autism. While each individual’s experience is different, Brett shares some of the traits, similar to the description above, that are common to autistic individuals. He started our Mountain Shadows Tailored Day program about a year ago.

“When we first met Brett, he didn’t go anywhere,” says Cecilia Bello, Program Director, Mountain Shadows Community Services Department.  “He didn’t want to go out of the house. He told us, ‘I feel safer at home.’”

“I remember the first day we met, Brett said only a few words to me,” adds Marc Ramirez, Community Service Support Staff. “Then he went back to whatever he was doing and that was that.

“We learned later that at one point Brett had enrolled at Cal State San Marcos, but he quit after one semester. He didn’t like it, so he dropped out. The large crowds scared him. He had social anxiety. After that, he stayed at home, never leaving until I met him.”

Says Cecilia, “Our Tailored Day Program provides one-on-one assistance to clients in their homes, at their job sites, and in the community wherever they need help. We provide assistance with employment, education, volunteer work, mobility training and community integration.”

“Once Brett decided to work with us, we set three goals,” says Marc. “The first was to go back to school and get a degree, the second was to learn to use public transportation, and the third was to work on talking with others.

“Today, he is enrolled at Palomar College in the accounting program, has applied for a bus pass so he can go back and forth to college, and he is talking to others at school.”

“Marc worked one-on-one with Brett to get him registered for classes,” adds Cecilia. “He also goes to class with him to provide support.”

“Over time, Brett has been opening up more and more,” says Marc. “My goal is to be there to help him focus, to reassure him, to help him get where he needs to go, to just be there to support him in whatever way he needs.

“So far at Palomar his grade is 98%! That’s so exciting. I encourage him to speak to other students at school. He gets scared, but he’s making progress. He’s more talkative, especially with me.   He even tells jokes and laughs.”

“Marc has been working with Brett for almost a year now,” continues Cecilia. “He’s been able to build a relationship with him. Brett trusts Marc and says he likes working with him. That’s a huge accomplishment!”

“Italy is another autistic client whose life has been changed due to Mountain Shadows Tailored Day program,” says Alma Anguiano, Program Assistant, Mountain Shadows Community Services Department.

“She’s 20-years-old and she’s very, very shy. Throughout high school she was very quiet. She didn’t like to talk to anyone at all. After high school, she just stayed home, not going out at all. She had no job.

“I’ve been working with Italy since December. Our goal was to get her into college and to get a job. I worked in helping her get registered, helping her fill-out financial aid forms, meeting with the college counselor regarding disability services available at school, and going to classes with her every week.

“At first, Italy didn’t speak to anyone at school. She didn’t ask any questions. She didn’t like to be around people or talk at all. Now she’s glad she decided to try Tailored Day services. She’s opening up!

“She’s taking a 3D animation class and she really enjoys it. She’s very talented and now shares her work on YouTube. She loves animation so much that she stays up late to work on projects.

“Italy is making so much progress. I’m very proud of her! She’s trying new things. She’s going out of her house. She’s taking classes and talking with other students and her teacher. She’s planning to obtain an animation certificate. Now she wants more out of life!”

Mountain Shadows Independent Living Services & Respite Programs Serving the Community

“Another part of our Community Services Department is Independent Living Services, where we work with individuals in becoming independent,” says Alma. “The ultimate goal is to help them acquire the skills they need to live on their own. We teach them life skills, like doing laundry, cleaning house, money management, and maintaining the home environment.

“Wilson, a 37-year-old autistic man, has been participating in both our Tailored Day program and Independent Living Services.

“When he started with Mountain Shadows, Wilson didn’t like change. He could be verbally aggressive at times. He wanted to stay home. He didn’t want to go anywhere. He didn’t want to fold laundry or learn to prepare meals. But little by little, he’s willing to do more, willing to go to the library or the park, willing to sit still and read a book. His parents are very happy. He’s doing so much better!”

“Another part of the Community Services Department is Respite Services, where we provide in-home assistance in order to give full-time caregivers a break.

“This has been of great benefit to parents and caregivers because it gives them a break from providing 24-hour care. In one case, a mother came to us needing emergency respite care for her children, because she had broken her leg. We were able to provide the care her children needed while the mother’s leg healed.

“In another case, a mother was ready to place her child in a residential facility, but was not able to do it financially. We were able to help her by providing her with much needed relief by caring for her child for several hours a week.”

“The Mountain Shadows Community Services Department is growing and that’s very exciting!” says Arlene. “Currently, we are serving nearly 50 individuals in the Community Services Department.

“Within every population of individuals, there is a wide spectrum of differences and, therefore, a wide spectrum of services needed. Mountain Shadows is branching out to support more people of various capacities and abilities – and the work we are doing affects the lives of the clients we support in a positive and meaningful way!

“The work we do is so rewarding and I’m proud of everyone involved in making all of this happen.”

To help Mountain Shadows continue to transform the livesof individuals like Brett, Italy and Wilson please click below.

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