Monday, July 16, 2018

Q & A with Award-Winning Arc SF Health Advocate Jane Ross

The Arc San Francisco recently announced the 2018 Walter Slater Award winner acknowledging Health Advocate Jane Ross for her outstanding commitment to improving the health and lives of her clients. 
We caught up with Jane between her client-doctor appointments to ask her about her work--the good and the challenging--and how she feels it makes a difference in the lives of those she supports. 

Jane Ross (r.) with her client Sylvia at UCSF. During her visit, Jane pulled up Sylvia's latest test results on her iPhone, talked about the move to a skilled nursing facility, called Sylvia's partner to share updates, and met with staff. 

Q. How did you become a Health Advocate at The Arc?
A. I had worked at The Arc in San Diego which made for a smooth transition as a Direct Service Professional at The Arc SF. I later supported The Arc health advocacy team through a grant in Later Life Transitions, and from there I became a Health Advocate. 

Q. What in your background prepared you for the challenges of Health Advocacy?
A. I studied Psycholinguistics at McGill University--where my father was a professor, actually. I was always interested in Behavioral Psychology and what motivates people to certain behaviors and attitudes. 

Q. What is it that you like about Health Advocacy? 
A. The personal stories of the clients are interesting--I like getting to know them. And you never know when there will be a breakthrough--you just keep at it, and you can make a significant difference. 

Q. Can you give some examples?
A. I was working with a client challenged with excessive eating. After pushing for genetic testing, she was ultimately diagnosed with Prader-Willi Syndrome. She was then referred to a specialist who works with the client, the family, a nutritionist and other support professionals to help her understand and manage her condition. 
In another example, I work with a client with sleep apnea who needed a CPAP machine to keep her airway open. Because the CPAP requires a face or nasal mask, it's hard to get it right, and the client refused to use it. So we went back and visited with another technician who was very helpful and patient with her. Now she uses it regularly, she gets a good night's sleep and she has totally changed! In one week, her skin looks brighter, she has more energy, she's using an app to monitor her exercise--it's a complete turnaround. 

Q. What advice would you have for health advocates who are just starting to work with individuals with developmental disabilities?
A. Be observant. Keep a high level of awareness about all aspects of your client's life because it all affects their health and well-being. 

To learn more about The Arc SF Center for Health and Wellness, contact Jennifer Dresen, Chief of Health and Housing, at

Monday, October 2, 2017

Families with Disabilities Practice Air Travel through "Ready Set Fly"

SAN FRANCISCO, CA--September 30, 2017  by Meredith Manning

Over 140 participants took part in The Arc San Francisco's air travel practice at SFO as guests of “Ready Set Fly,” an on-plane experience designed to help individuals and families with developmental disabilities like autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy prepare for the challenges of air travel. 
Many families who have never flown before were nervous but excited to try the practice experience in a safe supported environment designed to help new flyers overcome barriers to visiting relatives outside the region, or even taking that long-awaited trip to the Magic Kingdom.

Toting carry-on suitcases, stuffed animals and an assortment of digital devices, moms, dads and kids started the long day at a pre-boarding workshop with clinical specialists' strategies for success.
Over 40 families joined "Ready Set Fly" at SFO for a day of disability travel education and an on-plane practice aboard a Jetblue aircraft.
Attendees then moved through ticketing, security and on to the gate to board a JetBlue aircraft where they buckled up and got a real feel for air travel through simulated engine sounds and the standard safety demonstration by flight attendants.

“This program is a great way for us to see if our daughter is ready to handle a trip. We just went through security and she was not happy about being separated from her belongings—but she did it,” said Morena Grimalda with daughter Ximena, 18.

“We’re learning new tips today,” said Joo Yui, with son Gabriel, 8, “like how to access the special accommodation security lines through TSA Cares. My goal? Take the kids to Disneyland—and maybe Hawaii someday.”

The Ready Set Fly program, now in its third year, has logged some surprising successes. Returning participant Gladys Silva said that because of the program, her family flew with her 22-year old son to see family in Peru—a 10-hour trip they never thought they could achieve. “The kids learn, the parents learn and the airlines learn,” she said. “We’re back again this year so that we can just normalize flying for our son.”

“All families deserve the opportunity to fly,” said The Arc San Francisco CEO Dr. Glenn Motola, a father who flies with his own children with disabilities. “Just as important as the on-board practice is an understanding of how to prepare. From assessing your child’s tolerances and triggers to understanding airport rules and regulations, families who are prepared will have a much more relaxing, comfortable trip—and that’s our goal.”
Noise-cancelling headphones are helpful to children who have a heightened sensitivity to sound.

SFO Airport Director Ivar Satero said that the program not only gives families the confidence to travel, but also gives his employees the opportunity to understand their role in providing information, accommodations and support to these valuable customers.

Kenneth Johnson, JetBlue SF General Manager, said that seeing families board a plane for the first time was the best reward his team of volunteers could hope for. “These families have dreams of traveling just like everyone else. We’re here to help them achieve those dreams.”

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Cindy's Story: Why I love teaching kids

Cindy talks about the mentor who believed in her and her love of working with kids.
The Laura Vicuña Pre-Kindergarten was started in 1987. It’s the pre-k part of Saints Peter and Paul School in North Beach. It’s a state-licensed nonprofit program with about twenty-five students, named for Blessed Laura Vicuña of Chile. I started going there in 1987 when I was 4 years old in their first pre-k, and Barbara Simons was my teacher.
Barbara taught me how to write my own name, make different projects and play with different kids. Now, as an adult coming back to my old pre-k school, I am teaching the kids how to make different projects, count, good manners, and playing with other children. I help them put together the projects they do, then they take them home and get to show their families.
I’ve been working in pre-k for 12 years and I learn a lot from my coworkers. I love working with the school because I am very patient and it’s not just a job, it’s a passion to work with the kids.
I started as a volunteer. Then my old teacher Barbara Simons saw that I was really good with the kids and she gave me a chance as a teacher’s assistant. With her encouragement I am taking a child development class to get my teaching certificate to be a full time teacher’s assistant.
I love teaching kids to have a good education and good manners so when they graduate and move on to kindergarten they will know how to write their names, make projects, have fun with other kids and learn.

--Cindy, pre-k teacher assistant, college student, Arc client
#lovetolearn #neverstopgrowing


Monday, May 15, 2017

Disability and the Digital Divide: A Different Discussion

By Kristen Pedersen, MPH, VP Education and Workforce Inclusion, The Arc San Francisco

(Photo l-r: Tania Estrada, The Women’s Building; Winnie Yu, Self-Help for the Elderly; Josh Peters, Bay Area Video Coalition)
Most of us take the internet and being constantly connected for granted. Whether ordering dinner online, applying for a job, or refilling a prescription, broadband, high-speed access is critical to everyday life. But many San Franciscans are left off the grid when it comes to internet access—particularly residents with developmental disabilities.  And as tech usage continues to grow, so does the gap in access.
How do we close this digital divide so that everyone has what they need to be connected?

Thanks to our friends at the San Francisco Public Library, I was part of a panel that convened recently during “Digital Inclusion Week” to look at new strategies for better access.
(See video.)

One of the biggest barriers among the individuals with autism, Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities whom we support at The Arc San Francisco is a lack of digital literacy, access to materials and the funds to have data plans or in-home internet. At The Arc, we started a small computer lab at our main campus several years ago, but only when we added classes in Email Basics, How To Search and Internet Safety did we see our clients using the internet in a way that was useful.
With that success, we began to integrate Online Job Search, Creating a Professional Profile and Applying for Employment Online to our suite of computer classes and trainings.  With funding from Comcast NBC Universal, we expanded our class offerings and upgraded our computers.

Today, all of our clients, from young transition age students to retired seniors, are learning to access the information they need to stay connected, engaged and in charge of their own lives. The experience has been life-changing for many of our clients:

  • Tom is able to go online and find free weekend events. He used to stay home most weekends, isolated. But now he checks out free concerts at Golden Gate Park and free movies at the library.
  • Mai has created her LinkedIn profile to complement her new resume so that she can network for the job of her dreams—in a downtown office where “...everyone has important work to do.”
While an estimated 10% of Americans have no way to access the internet, almost 50% of people with developmental disabilities have fallen through the digital divide. But as our City expands its infrastructure for more connectivity, organizations like The Arc SF and the San Francisco Public Library are critical to support the closing of the gap. And we will continue to champion people like Tom and Mai so that they have the skills and experience needed to fully participate in today’s digital world.

Monday, April 10, 2017

My Story, My Dreams

In addition to being an advocate for The Arc San Francisco, Gladys is an ambassador for Best Buddies, a social and recreation nonprofit for individuals with developmental disabilities. Best Buddies’ creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, and leadership development through friendship, coaching, and mentoring programs.

At a recent Best Buddies event, Gladys was able to share her story with peers and an audience of Best Buddies friends and family. Below is a transcript of the speech she gave. Congratulations on your successful ambassadorship, Gladys!
Hi, thank you for coming.

My name is Gladys Rodriguez. I was born and raised in San Francisco. I’ve been a best buddies ambassador for quite a while. I’m 32 years old. This speech is about my life.

I was born with spina bifida. A nurse told me and my mom when I was 8 years old that I wouldn’t make it to 15. But look at me now, I’m 32 and still fighting for my life.

My senior year of high school, I was failing art class. When I tried to make the required flowerpot, it came out looking like a lopsided water pitcher. As funny as that was, I knew I had to take night classes to graduate from high school. So, that is what I did and I was able to walk across the stage to get my diploma.

My life goals after high school are to get my dream job, get married, and learn how to drive. My dream job is to become an administrative assistant.

I’ve learned I can do anything I set my mind to. I want to learn how to type without making mistakes. I want to get my dream job as an administrative assistant. I hope you will take to heart my story and learn to never give up on your life or your dreams.

Friday, April 7, 2017

2017 WorkLife Awards Honorees

Join The Arc San Francisco’s Business Advisory Council for the 2017 WorkLife Awards celebrating the work and life achievements of clients of The Arc and the employer-partners who champion their success. We are so proud of our honorees recognized for their achievements in the workplace and for the support of their employers. A round of applause for these amazing individuals and companies who will be recognized officially at the WorkLife Awards on May 4, 2017.

2017 Honorees

Employee of the Year: Bryant Wong, Deloitte
New Employee of the Year: Shermaine Escobar, Boston Consulting Group
Core Values Award Winner: Anne Fu, Ghirardelli Chocolate
Intern of the Year: Mira Poon, Project Search, PG&E
Volunteer of the Year: Vadim Vahnshteyn, Muttville Senior Dog Rescue
Employer of the Year: Morrison Foerster
New Employer of the Year: Airbnb
Volunteer Partner of the Year: Seton Medical Center
Industry Awards
Hospitality: Wag Hotels
Professional Services: Cyprus Security
Technology: Mixpanel
Anniversary Winners
THREE YEARS: Michael Look, DeMarcus Myles, Audrey Chien, Dawn Gray, Michelle Reyes, James Glanville, Garrett Sharp, Zelman Helmer, Willy Kwong, Ana Quechol, Elizabeth Leong, Ted Cruz, Sandra Sanchez, Chris Guinto, Susan Ngai, Michelle Yi, Irina Goldshlag, Emma Yungert, Jason Hitchcock, Latoya Mays, Terrell McClanahan, Guo Ren Guan, Jesus Garcia, and Joseph Perada
FIVE YEARS: Thomas Luong, Endora Lau, Jonathan Harrison, Gail Vaughn, Marie Castillo, Andrew Bixler, Cindy Ruiz, Eric Lin, and Robert Humphreys
TEN YEARS: Vincent Liang and Lily Louie
TWENTY YEARS: Eugene Lee, Dennis Lubitz, Gomer Padilla, Titor Sandee, and Wendy Wilson
TWENTY FIVE YEARS: Catherine Cogliandro

The WorkLife Awards are sponsored by The Arc San Francisco Business Advisory Council (BAC), a network of business professionals dedicated to creating more employment opportunities for clients of The Arc.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Fitu the Poet

Fitu has been coming to The Arc San Francisco's ArtReach Studio & Gallery for eleven years now. During his time at the Studio, Fitu has loved making friends with other artists, learning new art techniques, and developing a more professional portfolio for his work.

Fitu is both a painter and writer. He first started writing poetry in 2005 and says, “It changed my life.” Through poetry, Fitu is able to express his voice and feelings. He shares his poems on his blog Peace Be The Journey.

Currently, Fitu is working on a collage in memory of a dear friend that recently passed away from cancer. Below are two of the poems he has written and will be including in his collage.

“You Are The Song, The Melody”
Happy Friends That We Were
Song Ballads That We Became
Blue Skies That We Stayed As
You Are The Song, The Melody In My Heart

Memorable Tunes We Didn’t Forget
Sad memories That Ended Our Relationship
Tomorrow’s Schedule We Should’ve Known
You Are The Song, The Melody In My Mind

Two Of Us We Met At The Hospital
Mail We Spent Our Days Helping Out
No Drama We Didn’t Have To Deal With
Only Cause God Took Care Of It Himself

Two of Us We Enjoyed The Afternoon
Mall We Spent Our Days Eating Alone
No Worries We Didn’t Have To Deal With
Only Cause God Took Care Of It Himself

Cold Breeze That It Kept Us Awake
Crunchy Snacks That It Kept Us Entertained
Volunteer Job That We Were Blessed With
You Are The Song, The Melody In My Life

Bus Ride That It Made Us Tired
Train Ride That It Made Us Feel Better
Clear Window That We Could See Brighter
You Are The Song, The Melody In My Faithfulness

“Only You”
Eternity We Always Spent
Spent On This Earth Forever
Unity We Always Share
Only You Can Make Me Smile Again
Relationship We Always Kept
Kept Till The Break Of Dawn
Faithfulness We Always Respect
Only You Can Make Me Smile Again

We Stayed As Friends
Not Just We Didn’t Care
We Stayed As Friends
Cause We Went To The Movies Once In Awhile

We Stayed As Friends
Not Just We Wanted To Get Away
We Stayed As Friends
Cause We Ate In The Food Court Once In A Blue Moon

Music We Love To Sing
Sing As We Left The Mall In The Afternoon
Chatting We Love To USe
Only You Can Brighten Up My Soull

Art We Love To Create
Create As The Morning Was Getting Started
Lunch We Love To Eat
Only You Can Help Me Grow Fast Again

We Stayed As Friends
Not Just We Was Feeling Tired
We Stayed As Friends
Cause We Rode The Bus Back To The Art Studio

We Stayed As Friends
Not Just It Rain And Poured
We Stayed As Friends
Cause We Rode The Bus Back To The Bart Station