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My name is Lynda Sueirro.   I am the current parent representative on the Board of Directors of CCDS.  I am also mother to 43 year old Aspen, which to my way of thinking is one of my most important jobs.  Aspen has been coming to CCDS for 11 years now.  In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, I have been asked to share our story of how we came to be here, and how our lives have changed since being involved with the Coastal Center for Developmental Services.

Aspen was born on the island of Guam, diagnosed with Williams Syndrome at 1 year of age, and started in an early intervention program at 18 months old.  We were a Navy family then, so we moved frequently. We were involved with some terrific school programs.  When my husband retired from the Navy, we moved to northern Colorado.  Aspen finished her schooling, and we then faced the scary procedure called transition.  The day program that Aspen went to was very similar to the kind of programs offered at CCDS.  We tried supported employment while there, however there was not the amazing Cindy Burns and her remarkable staff to assist us.  We tried several different jobs, all of which just weren’t the right fit for Aspen.  We have since determined that unless Aspen can work in retail jewelry, she probably won’t be employed in the community.

Aspen (in red) enjoys a life with meaning an independence because of her parents’ dedication to empowering her to be part of the community.

We left Colorado to move our family to a gentler climate.  We were from Colorado and California, so we didn’t know much about hurricanes.  We settled in Long Beach, Mississippi.  The day program there was pretty sad.  Transportation was provided to a warehouse type building.  The program had limited resources.  There was occasional production-type work, like we have here in the CCDS Training Center.  If there was no work, the clients were given elementary school work sheets to do.  We were making it work for us, as I’m sure many of you parents and guardians have done.  In 2005, one year after we moved to Mississippi, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.  We were very fortunate to have a home to return to, unlike so many who lost theirs, but Aspen’s day program took several months to return, and then only on a very limited basis.

Through the internet, phone calls, and actual trips, we started looking for a new home and, of course, a new program for Aspen.  We reached out to programs in Texas, Florida, South Carolina, and a couple in Northern Georgia.  We were told that the waiting lists would be at least two years in each of these places.  Our final stop was here in Savannah.  We spoke with a wonderful lady, Kathy Thomson.  After a quick tour, Kathy informed us that Aspen could begin a day program in 3 weeks.  That decided us on the spot.

We have felt through the years that we made one of the best decisions for our family by moving here to Savannah.  Aspen started in the production area, which later became Quantum, has tried her hand at the print shop, which didn’t quite work out for her, and is now happily participating in Community Access Group (CAG). Aspen and her group do volunteer work 3-4 times a week.  They also make use of the services at the YMCA, doing yoga and swimming depending on the season, as well as other activities throughout the community.  Soon she will start doing a pottery class through the City of Savannah’s Leisure Services.  These opportunities have had a positive effect on Aspen and she enjoys learning and experiencing new things.

As all you parents and guardians know, life is not always smooth sailing.  Through our years here we have had some bumps in the road.  CCDS has always been my go to place for help and advice.  Aspen now lives in a host home, with another lady who comes to CCDS.  I feel that between CAG, and her host home setting, Aspen has grown and matured.

The government has decided to change the “look” of places like the Center.  Dr. Ken and the staff are working hard to comply with the new government guidelines, which are aimed at doing away with sheltered workshops. But Dr. Ken and his staff are also working to make improvements to areas that include community employment, the print shop, catering, Gulfstream, and t-shirt and silkscreen.

I tell people who ask about Aspen that she is having a great and interesting life right now.  She is excited and looks forward to every new day. Isn’t that what we want for our family members?