by Dana Bartholomew from The Los Angeles Daily News:
LAKE VIEW TERRACE >> When Marilyn Weiss wants to head out on a date with her boyfriend, she’s hit on a hot ticket for getting around Los Angeles: the bus.
This year, the developmentally disabled woman took advantage of a new travel training program at New Horizons that has helped widen her urban world — to the movies, to the mall and as far away as historic Pasadena.
“I like it,” said Weiss, 59, of North Hills, beaming. “Because I can take the bus by myself. Makes me feel happy. Him, too.
“Without New Horizons, I’d be bored. I’d be nothing. I’d stay home.”
New Horizons, the San Fernando Valley’s oldest social service agency to help special needs adults, celebrated 60 years of service Saturday with a seventh annual 5K Run/Walk on the Horizon.
Where smiling greeters waved to visitors along a road leading into the Hansen Dam Aquatics Center in Lake View Terrace.
Where up to 300 hoofers circled the fog-shrouded waters to support the North Hills-based agency that empowers special needs residents through training for independent travel, education, recreation, work and housing.
And where family members could recall a not-so-distant time when such disabled residents were shunned to the shadows of their communities.
“Way back in the Dark Ages, we were told to get rid of these kids, put ‘em in the house,” said Susan Gross, a member of Friends of New Horizons, whose daughter Cindy has found a measure of freedom through the agency for three decades. “We’re not going to do it, because they’re our children.
“My daughter’s a fighter.”
In 1954, eight Valley parents launched a nursery school for their Down syndrome kids and the San Fernando Valley Association for Retarded Children. Early supporters included such celebrities as Dale Evans, Jane Wyman and Fess Parker.
Renamed New Horizons, the $13-million nonprofit employs hundreds of staff who now serve 1,000 clients with developmental disabilities that range from autism to Down syndrome to cerebral palsy.
Recognized as Los Angeles County’s leading service provider for landing jobs for the developmentally disabled, the agency has helped clients find work at more than 100 Valley businesses, including Costco, Trader Joe’s and Universal Studios.
Hundreds more work at its 20,000-square-foot Workshop, gaining skills and paychecks by conducting assembly and packing services ranging from earplugs to vitamins. Others work at its Sam’s Cafe and bakery, famous for its food and cookies.
Besides its dozen supportive group homes, New Horizons also helps adults with developmental disabilities establish residences of their own, while providing a full range of support services.
This year, it is completing its first group home for clients with Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s, has expanded its travel training program launched last year, and is providing respite services for families with special needs at home.
A New Horizons 60th Celebration Concert benefit on June 21 will feature Johnny Rivers of “Secret Agent Man” fame at the Ford Amphitheatre.
“We have always evolved to meet the need of the people we serve, from a nursery school to now the predominant workforce for the San Fernando Valley,” said Cynthia Sewell, its president and CEO. “New Horizons means a place for our clients to come and be productive.”
That would include Susan Gross, whose Workshop job she found a year and five months ago allows her to assemble medical bracelets and more.
“It helps me prepare for a better job,” said Gross, 50, of North Hills, an avid bowler who loves to play tennis, before the Hansen Dam circuit she prepared for by power walking. “My dream job: I’d like to be a lawyer.
“Happy Birthday, New Horizons. And many more.”