AbilityFirst reopens downtown Long Beach after 18 months of construction and $6 million campaign • Long Beach Business Journal

AbilityFirst, which has provided programs and services to children and adults with disabilities in Long Beach since 1966, celebrated the grand reopening of its Long Beach center on September 28, the culmination of an 18-month construction process and a $6 million fundraising campaign that also supported the renovation of its Pasadena site.

The Long Beach center needed many updates, including improving accessibility and the breadth of services offered, said April Stover, senior director of programs at AbilityFirst’s Long Beach center.

AbilityFirst’s efforts to raise $6 million for its Long Beach and Pasadena centers began in 2019, and the Long Beach center finally kicked off in April 2021, Stover said.

Throughout the process, the Long Beach Center has worked to keep its doors open, temporarily closing sections of the building in order to continue operating, Stover said.

The updates and improvements to the center are extensive, all aimed at improving the experience for its more than 90 attendees.

Extensive improvements to the Long Beach location include a new, safer driveway, a flattened greenbelt area allowing for greater friendliness and an improved gardening program, a renovated kitchen for developing cooking skills, a ceramics room more accessible, updates to its hot water pool used for therapeutic and recreational services, and new locker rooms including a unisex locker room.

AbilityFirst’s hot water pool in its Long Beach center has been remodeled to be in an enclosed area with an additional roof and HVAC system. Photo courtesy of Asahi Chinen for AbilityFirst.

AbilityFirst also now has a brand new sign as well as updated landscaping, which Stover hopes will provide more visibility for the nonprofit.

“I don’t want to be Long Beach’s best-kept secret,” Stover said. “I want people to know who we are here, the services we provide and what we do to give back to the community. »

Perhaps the most significant of the updates includes enhancements to the center’s programming areas, which allow AbilityFirst to bring its College to Career and Supported Employment programs to the Long Beach center.

The programs were previously offered within the AbilityFirst agency, meaning they were available to clients, but not necessarily on the Long Beach site. Bringing them directly to the Long Beach site, Stover said, will improve access and opportunities for individuals in AbilityFirst’s after-school and adult programs.

“It really encompasses our mission,” Stover said. “We’re really going to give our individuals that choice throughout their lives.”

The employment program connects individuals with professional coaches and employment specialists, who can help them through every step of the job process, from creating a resume, to interviewing, to interviewing. learning the necessary job skills, with the goal that individuals will eventually work independently, in a job they are interested in, Stover said.

The College to Career program is a new addition to the nonprofit, which originated in AbilityFirst’s Pasadena hub, and really took off after the pandemic hit and the shift to online services, said Stover said.

The program connects those enrolled at the university with an education specialist, who provides support as needed, which can range from helping to set up a routine and developing management skills time, interacting with other students, taking the bus to class, Stover said. .

“It’s different for each individual based on their level of need to help them succeed in college,” Stover said. “The ultimate goal is for them to graduate and then be able to have the career they want.”

The addition of the supported employment and college programs gives adult participants more choice than AbilityFirst’s adult day program, which focuses on recreation, socializing and volunteering, Stover said. .

“If you don’t have multiple paths to choose from, you’re kind of landlocked,” Stover said. “That way we’re actually giving that real choice and that opportunity.”

Over the years, AbilityFirst has adapted to the changing needs of its participants; in the organization’s early days, polio was prevalent and therapies for people with disabilities were generally not offered in schools, Stover said.

As needs evolved and therapies in schools became more common, AbilityFirst did not need to duplicate these services, Stover said.

“We found that the real need was in independent living and that aspect of social skills, and so that’s what we really focused on,” Stover said. “Our adult programs and our after-school programs give that independence, that choice, and the learning of those new skills.”

Renovations included an updated instructional demonstration kitchen, where attendees learn safety, cleaning, inventory and preparation, among other independent living skills. Photo courtesy of Asahi Chinen for AbilityFirst.

The center’s renovations and upgrades are an extension of that philosophy — its upgrades are all aimed at improving the experiences of its attendees, Stover said.

“I think the big thing that’s really going to have a huge impact in the lives of our participants is the fact that we’re able to do more, we’re able to serve more people,” Stover said. “It will really broaden the scope of what they may want to do with their future and give our families a lot more choices and opportunities to learn more about what AbilityFirst does.”

Through AbilityFirst’s fundraising campaign and subsequent fundraising efforts, the organization had the opportunity to connect even more to the community and establish awareness, Stover said.

Community groups like AbilityFirst’s Long Beach Guild, which have supported the organization since 1978, have been vital to the fundraising process, Stover said.

Other campaign funders included the Ahmanson Foundation, the Alpert & Alpert Foundation, the Raymond and Barbara Alpert Foundation and Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger.

“It made me smile,” Stover said of the community’s support for the fundraising campaign and the center’s reopening. “I am so grateful to our donors, families, staff, committee and community for honestly opening their hearts and wallets, and allowing us to complete this renovation that will allow us to reach more people. their goals and have an amazing quality of life, and have that real choice and independence that we all want out of life.

The nonprofit organization is currently gearing up for its upcoming “Stroll and Roll” fundraiser on Sunday, November 12 at 9:30 a.m. at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia. Find more information about p2p.onecause.com/22strollandroll. To tour the new AbilityFirst facility, contact April Stover at [email protected].

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