A new program that would help young adults with developmental disabilities to learn life skills could be on its way to the Lucia Mar Unified School District.
Special education advocate Andrea Vergne and Oceano Community Services District board member Matthew Guerrero are lobbying the school district to form an "Adults in Transition" program that would help students with developmental disabilities and/or autism gain skills to help them be more self-sufficient into adulthood.
The program would focus on students between the ages of 18 and 22 and would provide them with life skills such as how to cook, catch a bus and perform job tasks. The program would be offered at the Oceano Community Center, which is owned and operated by the Lucia Mar school district.
The current facility meets Americans with Disabilities Act requirements but Vergne's vision of the center calls for upgrades that would make the building more welcoming to people with special needs.
Vergne — whose grandson has a rare chromosomal abnormality that left him developmentally delayed — has been an outspoken proponent of rights for developmentally disabled children in the county. In 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed her to area Board 9 of the California State Council on Developmental Disabilities; the same year, Arroyo Grande High School held a new special day class for moderately to severely developmentally disabled students largely due to a request by Vergne.
Now, she is hoping to update the Oceano Community Center so that it will be more useful to everyone.
In her vision, parts of the community center such as the gymnasium and theater would be retrofitted to be more accommodating for people with special needs, and other parts, such as its kitchens and board rooms, would be updated into hands-on learning spaces that could be used during the day for the transition program and in the evening for other recreational classes.
"I am one of so many in the county with a child with special needs," she said. "And we want a place, we need a place, where we can be included. It's important to embrace our children, whether they have special needs or not."
Vergne said she did not yet have an estimate on how much the upgrades would cost, though she thinks the changes would be "an investment into the community."
"I think it's important to invest in not only our children, or even just our children with special needs, but our community," Vergne said. "And this would be an investment into everybody."
Guerrero said his personal interest in the program is its proposed location at the Oceano Community Center.
"The center is an underutilized resource; Oceano is an underutilized resource," he said. "To have one of the most beautiful buildings in Oceano used for such a good reason, to serve this group of people, really fits with the vision I have for our community."
Joining Vergne and Guerrero in the effort is Patrick Miller, chairman of the Central Coast Regional Advisory Committee for the State Council on Developmental Disabilities.
The school district mostly uses the community center for Parent Participation classes and as a private event facility. The district is in the process of looking for ways it could utilize the center more, and Guerrero and Vergne's Adults in Transition program is one of several proposals to come before the school board's subcommittee assigned to the task, Guerrero said.
Though the program has twice gone before the subcommittee, no official recommendation has yet been made, he said, and the topic was delayed once soon after former superintendent Jim Hogeboom announced he would be leaving. Now that new Superintendent Raynee Daly is in office however, Guerrero and Vergne said they think the process will speed up, and it could go before the board sometime in the coming months.
"These are really the baby steps," Vergne said. "But it's on its way."