Beacons is excited to share that at the recent September Board meeting the San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved funding to help Beacons offer a transportation option!
On September 27, 2022, Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer, Supervisor for District 3, brought forward the grant request to help Beacons secure funding to purchase a vehicle to serve those with developmental disabilities or "diversabilities." Beacons is thankful to the entire Board for its unanimous approval of this request.
In 2020, the Board of Supervisors approved funding to help Beacons with its second site expansion to provide more vocational training and other options, a grant request brought forward by Carlsbad's then district supervisor, Supervisor Jim Desmond. Supervisors Lawson-Remer and Desmond also recently brought forward a proclamation in August 2022 recognizing August 30th as "Beacons North County Day," for its work, which the Board unanimously approved.
Transportation is one of the most significant barriers for individuals with developmental disabilities preventing access to the community and employment. While publicly funded and subsidized options through ADA.ride and the North County Transit Department are available, riders who use the paratransit option LIFT have reported numerous ongoing problems.
Examples of reported problems include:
having to remain on the LIFT shuttle for two hours or more to get to destinations just minutes away,
frequently waiting for pick-up beyond the 30 minute pick-up window stated on the LIFT website,
arriving late to work, or to vocational training, risking their employment, enrollment and at times their health,
drivers making inappropriate and at times lewd comments about females, making riders uncomfortable,
arriving in unmarked cars without badges or other identifying information causing uncertainty in riders.
On other occasions LIFT drivers have neglected to check the destination points arriving at the wrong location altogether. In at least one instance a driver fell asleep at the wheel placing riders at risk and requiring the riders to wake the rider, yet the driver retained his job. Another rider arrived hours late to her home causing potential health issues because she is diabetic. Another rider who recovered from cancer and who was on the shuttle for approximately two hours had to be taken to a public gas station to use the bathroom on his own placing him at risk because of his cognitive disabilities.
The transportation problems have been long known. In July of 2019, Lucile Lynch, the current president of Beacons, sent an email to SDFORWARD/SANDAG sharing how a LIFT driver took a 10 minute break while the rider stood by in the cold and then after completing the 10 minute break the driver pulled over by a wall near the Beacons entrance and relieved himself against the wall as the rider sat in the van and parents watched nearby.
Beacons trainees advocated for change at a recent North County Transit Department (NCTD) Board meeting, and Beacons staff have shared numerous concerns with NCTD directly. Although the NCTD has tried to make some positive changes, such as the hiring of Loops Transportation (which has been a more reliable option per riders' accounts), many transportation issues remain.
LIFT serves riders with disabilities if the destination is within 3/4 of a mile of a bus stop. As bus stops are eliminated or where bus stops do not exist LIFT is not an available option. For example, after advocates with disabilities convinced the MiraCosta community college to offer more courses for students with intellectual disabilities at its San Elijo campus due to its proximity to the local high school district and needs of local students, the bus stop at that campus was eliminated. Students have reported that there is no longer LIFT availability due to the lack of a bus stop within 3/4 of a mile at the campus. (See, e.g. image below from the NCTD’s online transit map showing no bus stops by the San Elijo campus).
The funding to purchase a vehicle will help Beacons provide an option for trainees to better access Beacons vocational training, employment opportunities, and possibly even local educational opportunities such as the San Elijo Campus. Beacons is exploring options that include picking up students from MiraCosta to bring them to its free vocational training so that individuals can access courses at MiraCosta as well as the vocational training at Beacons. Routes are currently in development.
Beacons was founded by four moms of loved ones with developmental disabilities to provide social and vocational opportunities in North County. Since opening its doors in November 2018, Beacon has had to expand twice to meet the growing demand for its services, with plans underway to expand a third time by 2025. During the pandemic when local businesses shut down, Beacons expanded its reach to ensure that individuals had access to technology and live instruction to reduce the social isolation felt by many. Within the next business day of the shelter-in-place order, Beacons had devices, materials and other items ready for pickup to provide uninterrupted services and live training and support.
Club Beacons, the social arm of Beacons, was the first option offered by Beacons and was started in November 2018 to provide social opportunities to reduce social isolation and foster the building of postsecondary friendships. Parents used their own funds to lease a site at 6150 Yarrow Drive to provide a postsecondary safe haven for families and adults with developmental disabilities and activities were coordinated by Board member Laura Makings who volunteered along with other Board members and community volunteers to make Club Beacons happen.
During the pandemic, Club volunteers provided free live online social events up to 4 times a month for over a year to keep homebound individuals connected. Beacons also provided an online Leadership Council during that time for people to engage and develop advocacy skills for no charge. Cheer-grams were also provided with the help of the National Charity League Surf Cities to let others know they were thought of and valued.
PathFinder, Beacons' first vocational division, piloted an office skills workshop in Spring of 2019 with the support of a community grant through the National Foundation for Autism Research (NFAR). PathFinder now provides training in creative design, customer service, entrepreneurial skills, office skills and other areas. Each spring and fall, Beacons provides four-month vocational training workshops at no cost to the trainees thanks to state funding Beacons secured through the San Diego Regional Center. (During summer, vocational exploration workshops are offered.) Trainees work on resumes, job applications, soft and hard skills, develop accommodation and advocacy plans, create person-centered plans, learn about SSI benefits and reporting, and more. For the last two sessions,100% of PathFinder trainees who wanted to work found competitive integrated employment.
In April 2022, Beacons launched its newest division: Explorer. Explorer is a subdivision of PathFinder, but is designed for individuals who need more time and practice to learn the vocational skills targeted by the PathFinder curriculum. Bethany Britt, M.A., a former special education credentialed teacher from the San Dieguito Union High School District, leads the Explorer division. Explorer uses curriculum adapted from the PathFinder curriculum to meet the needs of Explorer trainees and is taught over four 5-month sessions spanning two years. Explorer has been operational for just over 4 months and 41% of its trainees now have competitive integrated employment. Explorer is also provided at no cost to the trainees through state funding from the San Diego Regional Center.
Unemployment of individuals with developmental disabilities in San Diego County has historically hovered around 84% per data from the Department of Developmental Services. Supervisor Lawson-Remer, along with Supervisor Fletcher, recently championed the County's "Opening More Doors to Workers Who Are Neurodivergent, Including Autism" workforce recruitment measure, approved unanimously on June 14, 2022 by the Board of Supervisors (Item #23), to help dress the significant unemployment rates in San Diego County. In 2013, the State of California adopted the Employment First Policy as part of the State's Lanterman Act, making the creation of employment opportunities one the State's "highest" priorities. This County Board of Supervisors has demonstrated its commitment to do just that by adopting the June recruitment policy and helping to fund grant requests such as the transportation option through Beacons to improve access to community opportunities and resources.
Thank you San Diego County Board of Supervisors for this generous grant!
Beacons, Inc. Board Lucile Hooton Lynch (President) Janet Schenker (VP) Mary Backer (Treasurer) Laura Makings (Corporate Secretary) Melissa Collins-Porter
Melanie Landers Ana Venegas