2011-08-11 / Community
T.O. man the latest success story from Villa Esperanza
Horn, who has mild mental disability, was hired as a parking lot attendant at Home Depot in Newbury Park when he was 19. After pushing carts for nearly a decade, he set his sights on moving inside and becoming a cashier.
“I said, ‘I’m up for anything.’ I didn’t know anything about money or what I was getting into,” said Horn, a Newbury Park resident. “It was scary. . . . People didn’t think I could do it. I proved them wrong.”
After five years behind a register, Horn was promoted last year to sales associate in the hardware department—a position that allowed him to make a better life for himself and his son, 15, who is also developmentally disabled.
Horn credits Villa Esperanza Services, which serves developmentally disabled children and adults in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, with helping him reach his goals.
“They’ve done so much for me in my life,” Horn said. “The staff are very good people.”
In Thousand Oaks, the nonprofit offers state-funded programs for adults and seniors, including employment services, a job placement and coaching program; an integrated work program, which teaches basic work skills; and adult residential and independent living programs, which teach money management, cooking, social skills, health and safety.
A group of mothers whose children had Down syndrome opened Villa Esperanza as a school in Pasadena in 1961. At the time, public schools in Los Angeles County did not have options for students with developmental disabilities. In July the nonprofit celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Despite funding cuts from the state, the nonprofit is doing well financially, said Aaron Kitzman, vice president of adult programs, adding that they are always looking for new businesses willing to hire their clients.
Over the years, the group has served mainly people with Down syndrome. But the spike in the number of people with autism has changed that, said west region director Charles Bloomquist, whose office is in Westlake Village.
According to the Center of Disease Control, 1 in 110 children in the United States have autism.
“We are currently serving more people with autism (than with Down syndrome),” Kitzman said. “The prevalence of autism has grown exponentially.”
As their client demographic grows, the nonprofit continues to focus on individual goals.
With Villa Esperanza’s aid, Horn moved with his son from a mobile home park into a twobedroom apartment in Thousand Oaks.
Tamara Cortez, Horn’s job coach, said she saw his potential to advance at Home Depot despite his own self-doubt.
“(Tye) didn’t have a lot of confidence. I knew he could do more. We set goals and talked about what he wants,” she said.
“We talked to his direct supervisor and human resources. Everyone was on board with promoting him. He gained so much confidence in his abilities,” Cortez said.
Cortez acts as an advocate for clients like Horn. She offers tips on how to work efficiently and monitors their performance. She also helps them identify and reach their goals.
The most challenging part of her role is dealing with staff at work sites who don’t understand developmental disabilities, she said.
“You have to have a certain level of compassion (for the mentally disabled),” said Cortez, a graduate student studying nonprofit work at Pepperdine University.
“They bless me more than I bless them,” she said.
According to Bloomquist, people with developmental disabilities actually have greater longevity at jobs.
“They have better attendance, they don’t call in sick, they very often have a better attitude because they appreciate that they’re working. It’s not a given; they really want to work,” he said.
About a year ago, the director approached the Rev. Frank Nausin, pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Thousand Oaks, about accepting job applicants through Villa Esperanza for the church’s janitorial crew.
Nausin had interviewed people without mental disabilities within the community for three janitorial positions but went with the nonprofit’s placements, citing the collaboration between job coaches and employees as “an appealing model and a winwin situation.”
“They do a nice job and are good to work with,” Nausin said about the organization’s workers.
“As a church, we feel like this is a way to help those (like Villa Esperanza) who are helping the community,” he said.
Horn, with the nonprofit’s support, looks forward to the future.
“It doesn’t matter what kind of special needs you have, you always believe in faith and you always believe in hope,” he said.
His next goal is to get his driver’s license.
“It’s hard to do but I don’t give up. I just keep on trying. I take it day by day,” he said.
Businesses interested in getting involved and individuals who would like to donate may contact Villa Esperanza through its website, www.villaesperanzaservices.org.
--Story updated August 15, 2011 at 12:28 p.m.