Innovative programs were developed under Steele's leadership, including employment services; independent-living training; the Community Connections program, which offered volunteer opportunities and an education series on daily-living skills; a therapy clinic offering speech, occupational, physical therapy and developmental services for children up to the age of 8; and Milestones Preschool, an inclusive preschool for children 2 to 5 years old.
"Lynda left an indelible mark on Abilities United and the general community," Board President David Kabakov and CEO Charlie Weidanz said in a statement. "She believed in a barrier-free society and dedicated her 40-year career and retirement to developing high quality community services for people with developmental disabilities as an alternative to institutional care."
Steele was born on April 5, 1948, in Kent, England, to Joyce (n<0x00E9>e Westrop) and Bob Steele. She went on to study in England, receiving a master's degree in social services planning from Essex University.
Beginning her career as social worker, she was alarmed by the living conditions of developmentally disabled persons institutionalized in the United Kingdom. She lobbied for the closure of such hospitals and developed alternatives, helping 350 people transition out of one such hospital into the community.
In 1973, she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she became a rehabilitation counselor for a work program and, in 1978, a developmental disabilities coordinator for San Mateo County. A few years later in 1981, she became a director of program services for the Community Association for Rehabilitation (CAR) in Palo Alto, which is now Abilities United.
After a six-year stint in the U.K. developing transitional programs, she returned to become executive director of the Hunger and Homeless Action Coalition of San Mateo County. In 1990, she became associate director at CAR and in 1993 was chosen as executive director.
During her tenure, Abilities United was given numerous awards, including the 2009 Palo Alto Tall Tree Award for "Outstanding Nonprofit" and the San Andreas Regional Center Service Provider of the Year award in 2010. In 2014, Steele was named Woman of the Year for the California 24th Assembly District.
After her retirement in 2014, she remained active as a volunteer and advocate for people with developmental disabilities, assisting in the establishment of the Big Wave Project, a housing project on the San Mateo County coast. She became a U.S. citizen in January 2016 and was excited about voting in her first presidential election.
Steele was predeceased by her parents. She is survived by an aunt, five cousins and numerous close friends, both in the U.S. and U.K.
A memorial service will be held on April 30 at 1 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza Cabana Hotel, 4290 El Camino Real, Palo Alto. Memorial donations can be made in her memory to Abilities United (abilitiesunited.org) or the Big Wave Project (bigwaveproject.org).
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