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Project Independence helps people with developmental
disabilities find jobs, develop friendships, and live independently.


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Project Independence Clients Paddle An Outrigger For Independence

Adults with developmental disabilities take to the water at Newport Aquatic Center via Project Independence’s Access 2 Adventure program By Dan Pittman, Neighbor Nonprofit Project Independence’s Access to Adventure (A2A) program for its clients with developmental disabilities has returned with outdoor adventures and activities. Recently, a group from the Costa Mesa-based organization gathered at Newport Aquatic Center to paddle an outrigger with the MAKAPO Aquatics Project, as the Polynesian sport of outrigger paddling can be enjoyed with no special adaptations needed to the equipment. The Project was founded in 2007 to meet the recreational needs of the blind community in Orange County and beyond. “We are happy to provide this recreational outlet for our clients who have been isolating at home through the pandemic and can now challenge themselves and have fun outdoors,” said Project Independence CEO and President Debra Marsteller. Also on the A2A calendar are a beach day BBQ, a trip to Catalina, and monthly Duffy boat cruises through the harbor. A highlight will be Project Independence’s 12th Annual Walk for Independence that kicks off National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The Walk is set for Saturday, October 2, 2021 in Costa Mesa’s Twinkle Park. Project Independence’s Access 2 Adventure Program is made possible in part through a generous gift from the Louis & Gladyce Foster Family Foundation. Project Independence has more than four decades of service and stability in Orange County as a lifeline to adults with developmental disabilities. Eighty-seven cents of every dollar raised by Project Independence goes directly to support vital programs for people with developmental disabilities. To become a 2021 walk sponsor, please contact Director of Development Todd Eckert at Todd@Proindependence.org or 714-549-3464.

One Year In, Collaboration Still Dishing Up Hot Meals, Dignity To O.C.’s Neediest Residents

Holley Sao, kitchen manager for Toast Kitchen + Bakery in Costa Mesa, prepares meals for Delivering with Dignity on Wednesday. One year in, the collaboration of donors, volunteers, assistance agencies and local restaurants has delivered 81,000 hot meals to people in need. (Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer) By SARA CARDINESTAFF WRITER JULY 1, 2021 5:09 PM PT As Orange County entered the long stretch of the coronavirus pandemic last summer, a contingent of nonprofit organizations, local restaurants, philanthropists and volunteers teamed up to provide fresh, hot meals to residents whose food options were scarce. Delivering with Dignity Orange County created a framework where donors raised funds to pay a modest $6-per-meal price to independent restaurants, who took turns boxing up goods for an army of volunteer delivery drivers. The meals went to clients of local assistance agencies who were at high risk for coronavirus and confined to their homes, did not qualify for other food programs and who otherwise had no support system or means of procuring food. Among them was local resident Jeffrey Hull, a client of the Costa Mesa nonprofit Project Independence, which helps adults with disabilities find jobs and live on their own. Last year found Hull often stuck inside his apartment with limited transportation and means of getting fresh meals. “I mainly stayed inside the house,” Hull said of his pandemic routine, alleviated by Delivering with Dignity. “I’ve gotten meals delivered before — I think it’s a fantastic organization.” Todd Eckert, development director for Project Independence, said the meal program filled a huge void. “The pandemic clobbered a lot of us and our ability to get out,” he said. “A lot of our clients are isolated, so this was a godsend.” Although the collaboration first formed as a stop-gap measure during a time of crisis, one year later, its participants are realizing the span and scope of what they created is much deeper than anyone anticipated. Delivering with Dignity O.C. founders held a small ceremony Wednesday at Costa Mesa’s Toast Kitchen + Bakery — where the very first meals were prepared June 24, 2020 — to recognize the village of people who’ve contributed to the effort. In the course of one year, the program has raised around $646,000 and has so far provided 81,000 daily meals to families and individuals in Anaheim, Santa Ana, Garden Grove, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley and other local communities. “As long as the need is out there, we want to do everything we can,” said Daniel Kim, founder of the nonprofit Dragon Kim Foundation, who saw a similar program operating in Las Vegas and brought it to Orange County. “We’re very proud of the effect we’ve had in the community. It wouldn’t be possible without this collaboration,” he continued. “It’s amazing what you can get done when you have an objective and put aside the egos.” And what a collaboration it’s been. One driver, Naomi Takahata, personally delivered 6,615 meals in a one-year period, Kim said. Others came through company-wide volunteer efforts, like the Santa Ana branch of Medtronic, which assembled a small team that delivered another 50 meals. “Some of the employees have taken it a step further and delivered on their own time,” said Medtronic team leader Ed Martinez. “[That’s] what we want, to have Delivering with Dignity have a bigger net out there into the community.” Delivering with Dignity also allowed eight independent restaurants to preserve at least 30 full-time positions at a time when eateries were forced to implement massive layoffs to survive. Karen Williams, president and chief executive of 211 OC, a nonprofit that connects vulnerable people with vital social services and resources, said while some aspects of the program may shift as the pandemic recedes and restaurants become fully operational, the need for hot meals is likely to remain. “If you’re living in a motel, or you’re renting a room from somebody or living in a garage, you may not have kitchen access,” she said. “So, being able to have prepared food makes a big difference.” As for Kim, he’s motivated to keep the program going as long as the need is out there. “The day we stop is when the need goes away,” he said. To learn more, visit deliveringwithdignityoc.org.  

Project Independence’s “Empowering Possibilities” Giving Day

24-Hour Fundraiser May 20 Seeks to Raise $100K For Nonprofit Programs and Services for People Living with Disabilities in Orange County Costa Mesa, Calif. (May 6 2021) — Project Independence and nine aligned nonprofits will partner with the Orange County Community Foundation (OCCF) on May 20 for Empowering Possibilities, a collaborative Giving Day to support people with disabilities living in Orange County. The 24-hour online effort aims to raise $100,000 for 10 nonprofits offering a range of education and supportive services, skills training and counseling, and community outreach programs. Within Orange County, there are over 250,000 people living with disabilities, making up 8.5% of the community. This Giving Day is an opportunity for donors to collectively support the nonprofit organizations providing the tools and resources necessary for Orange County’s disabled residents to achieve success and independence. In addition to Project Independence, other participating organizations include Blind Children’s Learning Center of OC; Dayle McIntosh Center for the Disabled; Down Syndrome Association of OC; Family Support Network; Hope Center for the Arts; Special Olympics Southern California; Speech and Language Development Center; United Cerebral Palsy Association of OC; and Vocational Visions. “Funds raised during the Empowering Possibilities Giving Day will support individuals and families who have suffered from gaps in services, isolation, and lacked access to special education programs, especially during the pandemic,” said Shelley Hoss, president and CEO of the Orange County Community Foundation. “We are proud to power this collaborative effort to build a supportive and inclusive Orange County for all people, including our neighbors with disabilities.” For more than four decades. Project Independence has been promoting civil rights for people with developmental disabilities through a range of vital services that expand their independence and choice. Subscribe “We are so please to team again this year with our fellow nonprofits serving those who need us most.” said Debra Marsteller, CEO, Project Independence. “At Project Independence we are honored to serve adults with developmental disabilities. Our Empowering Possibilities Team represents the valuable community services to so many individuals and families throughout Orange County who need a helping hand. As a result, our entire community grows stronger. We thank you for your compassionate support during this campaign. We could not do what we do without you!” To give online during the 24-hour Giving Day, please visit empowering-possibilities-giving-day.ocnonprofitcentral.org. For more information about Orange County Community Foundation Collaborative Giving Days, please visit oc-cf.org/givingdays. ### About Project Independence Founded in 1977, Project Independence is an Orange County-based 501(c)3 nonprofit, serving nearly 1,000 people with developmental disabilities in their homes, at work, and in the community through Independent Living, Supported Employment and Day Program services, and other supportive resources. For more information, please visit www.proindependence.org About Orange County Community Foundation Founded in 1989, the Orange County Community Foundation (OCCF) works with donors, strengthens the local nonprofit sector and works to find solutions to community needs. Since its inception, OCCF has awarded nearly $780 million in grants and scholarships, placing the organization in the top two percent in grantmaking among U.S. community foundations. For more information, visit oc-cf.org or call 949-553-4202. Be a part of our conversation on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


Costa Mesa, California, March 23, 2021 – Nonprofit Project Independence of Costa Mesa is pleased to announce that client Victoria Tran has joined the staff of Carr Manufacturing Company, Inc. in Lake Forest. Her new job was secured through Project Independence’s Supported Employment program and job coach Sohalia Naeimypou. The nonprofit serves its clients by having job developers continually seek corporate partners looking to build a stronger community  by employing adults living with developmental disabilities. Carr owner Michelle Carraway says she knew their need for someone with the patience and focus that Victoria displayed would be a great addition to her team. Now they  are looking for other places where another PI client would find purpose and independence. As for Victoria, Sohalia couldn’t be prouder of how quickly she has taken to her job responsibilities. “Victoria might be wearing her safety mask, but I can always tell that she is smiling beneath it,” she says. The Supported Employment program develops jobs and then matches up the skills of clients to the needs of the employers. From orientation, skills training and commute scheduling, to detailed job duties and supervisor contact, the organization fuels stability in the employer and employee relationship.  It provides whatever the person needs to be successful, from extra training, establishing priorities and creating task schedules, to educating employees at the job site and building natural supports. Project Independence has more than four decades of service and stability in Orange County. Eighty-seven cents of every dollar raised by the nonprofit goes directly to support vital programs for people with developmental disabilities.  For additional information, please visit www.proindependence.org.


All aboard for adventure! Nonprofit Project Independence of Costa Mesa is pleased announce that special events professional Melissa Trujillo has come onboard as the volunteer coordinator of our Access 2 Adventure (A2A) program. Brought back through the ongoing generosity of the Louis & Gladyce Foster Family Foundation, the popular program will feature exciting adventures on Zoom and in person following all health safety protocols. Melissa has already prepared a survey and sent it out to learn what events are of interest, etc. Among the ides we are considering:  PI on The Water, a Duffy and Lunch Cruise; a Virtual Zoom Brunch Meet and Greet and Intro to A2A;  a Beach BBQ; and a Catalina Eco Tour. We will let everyone know when events are scheduled. Melissa was born and raised here in Orange County. She lived in San Francisco for the past 15 years where she worked at the Pomeroy Recreation and Rehabilitation Center as a program manager serving adults with developmental disabilities. Melissa has recently relocated back to Orange County with her husband and 16-month-old daughter and looks forward to making connections in the community and volunteering with Project Independence. Welcome, Melissa!

COVID Vaccinations For People With Disabilities

The state of California announced Friday that healthcare providers will be able to start vaccinating those with compromised immune systems and disabilities starting March 15. Healthcare providers may use their clinical judgment to vaccinate individuals age 16 to 64 who are deemed to be at the very highest risk for morbidity and mortality from COVID-19 as a direct result of one or more of the following severe health conditions: Cancer, current with debilitated or immunocompromised state Chronic kidney disease, stage 4 or above Chronic pulmonary disease, oxygen-dependent Down syndrome Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant Pregnancy Sickle cell disease Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies (excludes hypertension) Severe obesity (Body Mass Index ≥ 40 kg/m2) Type 2 diabetes mellitus with hemoglobin A1c level greater than 7.5% The new guidance also allows vaccinations for people with developmental or severe disabilities that leave that at high-risk if they are infected including the following: The individual is likely to develop severe life-threatening illness or death from COVID-19 infection Acquiring COVID-19 will limit the individual’s ability to receive ongoing care or services vital to their well-being and survival Providing adequate and timely COVID care will be particularly challenging as a result of the individual’s disability Currently, vaccines may be distributed to populations identified in Phase 1A and Phase 1B, Tier 1. and Phase 1B, Tier 1.


We serve over 700 people with developmental disabilities in Southern California as they experience life and discover their potential for independence, as every person should have the opportunity to do – regardless of disability.

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In Memory Of

Memorial to Bobby Spitzberg, our client, friend, ambassador, board member

Memorial to Jerry Keating, a great champion of Project Independence

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