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Reid’s Gift Keeps on Giving

Helping disabled individuals thrive through programs that have a lasting impact.

By Daphne Khalida Kilea

Photo by T Christian Gapen

BRUSH WORK: Kat Taylor, 36, transforms a wooden chair into art at Kindling Studios in Camarillo.

 

eid Brian Thompson, 11, passed away in 2007, but his memory is etched in the endeavors of a local nonprofit organization dedicated to serving other youth and adults with developmental disabilities. Thompson, a student with autism, met educator Molly K. Rearick, EdD, CESP (Certified Employment Support Professional), at a school in the San Fernando Valley. She was emboldened by his personality and zest for life. Following Thompson’s death, Rearick felt compelled to “share his spirit” with the organizations where she volunteered and in 2013 she launched Reid’s Gift with the support of his family and other colleagues.

The formation of Reid’s Gift was not only a tribute to Thompson but also an effort by Rearick to fill a void by providing for a population she believed was underserved.

Its establishment in Ventura County (VC) began with one program in the afternoons which was staffed by program director Tina Ebsen, MA, LMFT, ATR (registered art therapist), and Thompson’s step-mother (as a volunteer). There were program limitations due to space, but there was demand — and Reid’s Gift was keen to oblige. Per Ebsen, access and inclusion were and still are vital to the organization, and it is willing to grow to accommodate those who want to be a part of it.

“Our expectations [in the beginning] were humble and, compared to what we are able to do today, quite small. We have always aimed to support clients and families with what they need, rather than creating supports and then seeking clients. It is overwhelming, in a good way, how large we have grown in such a short amount of time,” Ebsen stated.

The Reid’s Gift of today is able to offer services to the developmentally disabled throughout Southern California, from Ventura County to Long Beach.

“We have grown from a handful of part-time employees in Ventura County to 50 employees in Ventura, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Orange Counties. We now serve approximately 150 clients and their families,” said Rearick.

Local Reid’s Gift services include Red Rabbit, a collaborative program with the Transitions Support Group and the Conejo Recreation and Park District’s Therapeutic Recreation program. Red is a color associated with Thompson; rabbit is for the Conejo Valley. Red Rabbit offers free educational presentations on topics suggested by people with disabilities and their families.

For those interested in joining the workforce, Reid’s Gift offers employment and internship development services. Experienced job coaches provide guidance and support prior to the work day and at the end of the shift, with overall involvement fading as needed.

Katherine “Kat” Taylor, 36, of Oxnard participated in the Halloween Store internship. She said that it gave her the stability to improve her business skills and pursue what she described as “once a pipe dream.”

“It will be an upscale eBay store at first, selling gently used and refurbished goods. I hope to then have a popup store within my future ventures,” she said of her goal.

Kindling Studios is Reid’s Gift’s working art studio, located at Studio Channel Islands in Camarillo. Its staff includes Ebsen, Creative and Entrepreneurial Director Jessieca Driver, and several experienced instructors. There, artists receive art and entrepreneurial training to help them create and sell their work. Taylor, whose pursuits include poetry, weaving and jewelry design, cherishes the freedom of expression art allows her and the satisfaction of completing a piece. She values Reid’s Gift for the opportunities and the sense of community it provides.

Similar camaraderie may be found at Reid’s Gift’s summer camp program. This year the camp had about 15 participants in addition to several peer volunteers and interns, an illustration of Reid’s Gift’s efforts to include others in the community — and their willingness to be involved.

“The summer program is designed to facilitate meaningful projects in which participants learn and practice different skills so they can access their community in an effort towards interdependence. Along the way, participants engage in reflection, hone communication skills and make connections with peers,” explained Ebsen.

Other Ventura County programs include communication support, which pairs support staff with individuals who do not speak or cannot rely on verbal language to communicate; clinical art therapy/mental health counseling; relationships and sexuality education; special education consulting; and the Afternoon Program.

The Afternoon Program was Taku Johnson’s introduction to Reid’s Gift and, like Taylor, the 22-year-old Thousand Oaks resident is now at Kindling Studios. While staff members helpfully provided communication assistance for Johnson, this was unambiguous: He really enjoyed some of the activities during the Afternoon Program, and he loves using animals as a subject for his art.

“Check. Fun,” said Johnson in response to why he likes Kindling Studios:It’s a source of income, an enjoyable one.

He is currently focused on creating art in Photoshop and will participate in December’s Holiday Market at Studio Channel Islands. He also hopes to showcase his work in an upcoming exhibit.

Johnson, Taylor and other local clients have access to many programs, but a few haven’t quite made it to Ventura County.

“We have been trying for years to bring Tailored Services [TS] to Ventura County and the San Fernando Valley, but have hit a number of funding-related roadblocks. TS is an individualized service wherein our staff help clients attend college, work and volunteer, and engage in other community activities like going to yoga classes, learning to take public transportation, meditating and going on dates,” said Rearick.

She speculated that agencies that oversee funding for Ventura County and the San Fernando Valley lack interest in Tailored Services and that the group-based services they opt for fail to meet many individuals’ goals. Elsewhere, Reid’s Gift supports nearly 60 adults through Tailored Services, but Rearick disclosed that it is difficult to offer the service without charging market staff rates and that many families cannot afford to pay out of pocket.

According to Rearick, lack of adequate funding is the main obstacle facing Reid’s Gift. Even so, the organization’s endeavors continue apace. Current commitments include presentations at local and national conferences, training other agencies in Communication Support techniques and expanding the training service in other areas, and offering meal planning for self-care.

And as always, the organization intends to take its cues directly from the individuals it aims to support.

As Rearick says, Reid’s Gift is committed to “continue learning from clients and families about what they need and how we can support individual growth and development.”

Reid’s Gift
info@reidsgift.org
310.853.0794
www.reidsgift.org

Kindling Studios
2222 East Ventura Blvd., Camarillo
art@reidsgift.org
www.kindlingstudios.org

Art instructor Stephanie Grey helps Alan Baker, 26, with a painting of Katy Perry — one piece in his series of contemporary pop singers.

William Lee Burke, 22, sorts through extensive scrapbooks of art he’s helped compile.

Kindling Studios Creative and Entrepreneurial Director Jessie Driver with Program Director Tina Ebsen.

11-01-2018

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