Abilities United rocks out at 50th anniversary

Celebration brought out Stanford Band, dignitaries to honor visionary organization for people with disabilities

Dancing along with the jubilant Stanford Tree and the university's marching band, 300 people celebrated the 50th anniversary of Abilities United, the Palo Alto nonprofit organization that helps children and adults with developmental and other disabilities.

State Senator Jerry Hill and Assemblyman Rich Gordon presented resolutions to awardees during the party at Microsoft's Mountain View campus. The April 25 event recognized the contributions of community members who have helped the development and revolution in services and equal opportunities available to people with developmental and physical disabilities. Microsoft hosted the event.

Twelve Palo Alto families founded Abilities United (originally called C.A.R.) in 1963 as an alternative to institutionalization for their preschool aged children with developmental disabilities.

Since then, the organization has expanded to a wide range of comprehensive lifelong services for children to adults through education, training, and support that enables those with disabilities to live, work and socialize in the community.

Clients include those with mental retardation, cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, autism, and other neurodevelopmental conditions causing developmental delays, and other disabilities who live in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

Since its inception, Abilities United has helped 63,000 people, Executive Director Lynda Steele said. Annually, the organization serves more than 2,500 people.

There has been a revolution in services and social integration for people with disabilities, she said. In the early 1960s, more than 200,000 people with disabilities were institutionalized in California. Today, that number is about 3,000.

Abilities United plans to expand its community-wide programs to provide greater interaction and inclusion between people without disabilities and with disabilities, she said.

"As we look forward, Abilities United sees a society where people of all abilities learn, live, work, and play together creating greater fulfillment, benefit, and unity for everyone. It is a society where there are no barriers to the full inclusion and contribution of people with disabilities and their families," she said.

Joseph Omolayole of San Mateo, mother and daughter Gina and Charlotte Rayfield of Portola Valley, and Jana Weaver of Santa Clara spoke about how services they and their families have received from Abilities United have helped their lives.

Omolayole said he became disabled as a child after an accident. The help he received from Abilities United began early, and he has grown into a confident man and an accomplished artist, he said. He now has a job working with a designer and wants to become a fashion designer with his own clothing line, he said.

Stories such as Omolayole's are a part of the Abilities United yearlong "50 Successes/50 Stories/50 years" campaign to share the accomplishments of people with disabilities with the community. A new story is posted each Thursday through December 2013 at

Individuals and organizations that have a long history with the organization and have made a significant contribution on the people Abilities United serves received awards. Honorees included:

* The City of Palo Alto -- "Government Partner" award for its 50-year partnership with Abilities United.

* Golden Gate Regional Center and San Andreas Regional Center -- "Regional Center Partner" award for referring participants to Abilities United.

* Kiwanis Club of Palo Alto -- "Service Organization" award for their volunteer service and donations to Abilities United over the past 50 years.

* Palo Alto Weekly -- "Media" award for their news coverage of Abilities United.

* Sobrato Family Foundation -- "Foundation and Corporation Partner" award

* Safeway -- "Employer" award for having over 10,0000 people with disabilities on staff at their stores.

* The James Jarrett Family of Palo Alto -- "Individual Donor" award for their continuous donations since the early 1970s.

* Jane Mangold of Palo Alto and Linda Vargas of San Jose -- "Volunteer" award. Each of these women has volunteered at Abilities United for over 30 years.

* Abilities United employees Karen Denny, John Fort, Carol Gleason, Peter Leung and Pamela Newman each received an award for their more than 20-year careers with Abilities United.

* Eriks Ramans of Sunnyvale -- "Participant" award. He has received services with Abilities United for over 40 years and is an advocate for people with disabilities.

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Like this comment
Posted by Rebecca Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Apr 26, 2013 at 11:03 am

Hats off to Abilities United. The Media Center Web Link has partnered with the AU since 2007 and we have co-produced with them 10 TV shows about their illustrious work and contribution to our community. Here is the most recent production in honor of their 50th!

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Elizabeth W.
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Apr 27, 2013 at 12:05 pm

This was an extraordinary event to which I wish all of Palo Alto area had been in attendance. It made us proud of who Abilities United has become in the past 50 years. The next 50 years will show how we are growing in our inclusiveness of those who have many abilities despite the fact that they may also have a disability. We praise Abilities United and all those who also believe that our participants are just like you and me. Thanks to all those who have helped to put us on the map as an agency to follow.

Like this comment
Posted by Professor Villian
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 30, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Inspiring comments. Thanks for the link. Another Historical Event for Palo Alto!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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