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Donor Circle for the Arts - Silicon Valley Community Foundation

The Donor Circle for the Arts at Silicon Valley Community Foundation is committed to serving under-served populations through the arts. We believe that the arts help create vibrant, productive, and expressive communities. We fund organizations that work with children and adults, represent cultures, unite communities, and advocate for the arts. The College of Adaptive Arts is an organization that the donor circle has chosen to fund because we believe that all people, regardless of age or ability, should experience the enrichment of the arts. CAA gives a segment of our population a chance to identify with something greater than themselves or their abilities, and be acknowledged as productive and vivacious people.

Our hope is that organizations like CAA can garner even more community support so that the important work that they do can continue to thrive. It’s through their vision and commitment that we see hope for the future of the arts as a unifying force. Thank you, CAA, for representing those with a voice just waiting to be heard!

Tobi S. Becerra
Philanthropy Advisor
Silicon Valley Community Foundation
Direct: 650.450.5496 | tsbecerra@siliconvalleycf.org

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b2ap3_thumbnail_jpleimann.jpgby Jen Pleimann

It is that time of year when we typically take some time to reflect on the past year and set goals and ambitions for the year ahead. At CAA, we have a lot to celebrate - new board members, fundraising goals met, amazing new students, dedicated professors, visionary leaders, supportive parents and a site to call home for quarterly classes and events.

I have now been a part of CAA’s board for four years and every year gets better - our community grows, more doors are opened and the mountain is moved a little bit more for our students; but I think what is most exciting for the board and visionary leaders at this time is the true understanding of who we really are.

As a new organization and a non-profit, it is not always easy to find your “fit.” In CAA’s early days, we struggled to find our niche in the special needs world. We struggled to fit into special education, as special education stops at age 22. We struggled to understand how our program complemented the current structure of day programs. We struggled to find grants that were open to an entirely new concept and new way of thinking. And then we realized, we do not fit. We are different.

Being different brings many opportunities, but these opportunities come with challenges. It takes time to introduce changes to the way the things have historically been done and seen. It takes time to educate the broader community not only about what we do but WHY we do it. It takes time for grant makers and funding providers to understand the long term benefits of such a program. And it takes time for governing bodies to turn their heads and recognize the untapped potential of adults with disabilities.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_toniforblog.jpgAs a Mountain Mover at the College of Adaptive Arts, I find that every time I attend an event or visit the school, I am uplifted. My first experience with DeAnna Pursai, the Executive Director, motivated me to learn more about the college. DeAnna and I connected over the topic of education and developed a friendship. I invited her Show Boaters to appear for a conference of my educational honor society, Delta Kappa Gamma. The entire audience was uplifted by the students’ enthusiastic dance routines and the poise with which each student spoke into the microphone.

The next time I visited a CAA event was their annual film festival. The films emphasized the abilities of persons with developmental delays. What stood out to me was the pure joy that the individuals in the films radiated when they were doing what showcased their abilities. The College of Adaptive Arts is dedicated to reaching their students at the appropriate level of expertise and motivating them to experience that same joy of showcasing ability.

Recently I attended the graduation ceremony and holiday performance for the students of the class of 2015. It was truly a showcase of academic and artistic accomplishment. The evening included singing, piano, guitar, public speaking and, of course, the distribution of diplomas. I was filled with joy at the success and pride of the students and their families.

Today my husband said to me, “One of the best moments of this holiday season was attending the graduation ceremony for the College of Adaptive Arts.” That’s what I mean by contagious! I hope you have an opportunity to visit the college, experience the contagious joy, and contribute in some way to the success of CAA.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_aine1.jpgThis holiday season I’ve been experiencing particularly strong feelings of gratitude when I reflect on the College of Adaptive Arts Mountain Movers Community. I am overwhelmed with gratitude in meeting and serving the most outstanding, courageous, and dynamic families of adults with special needs. They are my rock and constant source of inspiration, hope, determination and possibility.

I’m grateful to our Mountain Movers Board of Directors who tirelessly and relentlessly work behind the scenes to promote our College and ensure that it continues to grow and evolve thoughtfully, professionally, prudently, and compassionately.

I’m grateful to the community members who have come on our tours, played in our golf tournament, given countless donations of funds and time, and believed in and supported this model of educating adults with special needs to become successful contributing citizens.

I’m grateful to our CAA Superstaff and students, whose synergy and creativity provide the bedrock spirit of the College of Adaptive Arts. We have the most willing and earnest learners coming together to be taught by the best team of professional artists, dancers, filmmakers, leaders. It is awe-inspiring and joyful to experience a CAA class.

And finally, I’m grateful to two outstanding women who have fundamentally shaped my being and persona. My sister, Angel, who is a year younger than I and who has Down syndrome, has been my constant guiding light of love, compassion, and determination. I’m equally grateful to my business partner and soul sister, Pamela Lindsay, who inspires me each and everyday to think differently and rethink possibility while always taking time to stop and smell the roses on the way. She’s my true hero and inspiration.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_nclothier2.jpgAbout 2 years ago, my friend and CAA Board Member, Brian Appleton, asked me if I would be interested in maintaining the College of Adaptive Arts website.  Brian's son Alex is a student there.  After reviewing their website and seeing the wonderful work they do, I said yes.  I have met both Founders, DeAnna and Pamela and visited the school site in San Jose.  Pam and DeAnna both shared their reason for starting the school citing their personal experiences.  Their passion and determination were evident.

I haven't had the opportunity to come to any of their events, but by reading the stories and viewing the photographs, I can experience what this learning opportunity means to the students and their families.  The smiles and joy on their faces tell it all. 

I hope to continue to work with Pamela and DeAnna, providing support in the mission of the College of Adaptive Arts.  I know there are many adults with differing abilities that could benefit from the college experience, and this school will continue to bring them the joy and satisfaction of learning and performing.

Nancy Clothier, Webmaster

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Reflections from Pam

When I reflect on the past several years, it seems unbelievable that our CAA family is experiencing the College of Adaptive Arts’ seventh year providing an innovative collegiate environment for lifelong adult education. We at CAA use the term “family” very purposefully, as it is everyone’s college. Students, families, teachers, staff, friends and supporters continue to build out this new platform spotlighting learning abilities that still-quite unbelievably-come as a surprise to many in our community.

As co-founders, DeAnna and I both firmly believe in CAA students’ passion to learn and in the lasting value of an educational path that has no boundaries. Though few would dispute the idea that education is a powerful tool for personal growth, no tier exists within diploma-based programs at mainstream colleges offering our differing learners similar academic goals as their peers. This drives us toward analyzing and dissolving related barriers. We have found that the biggest barriers exist within narrow perceptions of what a college is and how accessible it should be.

The idea of alternative, specialized adult learning strategies can sometimes be perceived as devaluing to the mainstream, traditional college experience. However, the traditional “brick and mortar” perception of learning is changing. No longer restricted to buildings and books, information now travels freely in many different ways through portals powered by technology and interpersonal connection. This is a good change for those who have traditionally been left out of the mix within typical college learning paths, and a golden key for our students with differing abilities.

CAA maintain a vision of a typical campus with buildings for our various departments, similar to traditional colleges. Such representation can be extremely equitable for our students. At the same time, CAA’s current pursuit of learning spaces deserving of our most treasured student body involves fewer and fewer walls and an increasingly broad net of support among respected industry professionals and environments. This exciting development is due to the wonderful fact that those who get our students are excited to get them going in areas of interest and passion, providing them with platforms for sharing their knowledge.

Your support is also changing perceptions daily. This includes perceptions of what it means to attend a college, earn credit, and pursue diplomas within an ongoing, adult learning journey. Will you help us spread the word to adults who can benefit from opportunities to learn and grow through creative approaches accessible to all? Simply share this wise message from our students: “Show your smarts. Learn the arts.”

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Season's Greetings from Founder Pam

Season’s Greetings!

One surprise has been our recording studio, built with love and generosity by the team at Barry Swenson Builders and filled with packages of equipment and instruments by a grant from the Silicon Valley Creative Guild. The dream of developing original and distributed music will soon be more than “visions of sugarplums.” Instead, it will be a reality in which the passion of students in CAA’s School of Music can be shared through an expanding and professionally recorded repertoire.

We are also celebrating the gift of ongoing connections to other college environments, including Santa Clara University’s SCAP program and Stanford University’s Department of Human Biology. Each year, I am pleased to participate at Stanford as a panel expert in a course on autism. I am thankful for the continued opportunity to join other professionals in our community in guiding the students of this course as they expose stereotypes and illuminate abilities of individuals with differing abilities. This course has become one of Stanford’s most popular, filling up just minutes after the opening of registration. Our students can look forward to their own chance to connect with them through participation in future studies. Watch for more information on when and where CAA students can join our Stanford friends and researchers in support of Nobel prize-winning efforts to understand how those with autism and other differing abilities think and learn. “Opening the shutters and throwing up the sash” on such knowledge would truly be a wonderful present indeed.

Our own little “sleigh and eight tiny reindeer” continues to be our CAA van and its V-8 motor, powering our touring ensembles across the state to entertain and excite. This year they have performed for schools, professional arts groups, amusement park crowds, and audiences at regional and state-wide events. We are all very thankful for our little green machine…but a new wheelchair-accessible charter bus remains very high on our wish list!

As the CAA Cardinals look forward to “settling down for a long winter’s nap” over the break, our professors are in their workshop creating new surprises for the Winter ’16 quarter. Here are a few hints: “”the three R’s,” “city leadership,” and “scholarly investigation.” You will be thrilled with what they are wrapping up for all to enjoy!!

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From the Benford Team of Sereno Group Real Estate


Our relationship with the College of Adaptive Arts began several years ago, when my mother and I met DeAnna Pursai at the San Jose/Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce. DeAnna spoke with a warm confidence about a college she helped to start for people with disabilities that, perhaps to most people, would seem to prevent them from going to traditional colleges.

We’d met a lot of people representing a range of various charities and causes, but there were two things very compelling about DeAnna’s cause. First, she had a grand vision for what was, at that time, a little-known project. We didn’t know how this vision would be fulfilled, but DeAnna’s faith in the cause was both evident and unflinching. Secondly, we were intrigued by DeAnna’s perspective: whereas some people might politely smile but expect no societal contribution from the individuals served by the College, she puts no limit on the value of their potential.

To the outside observer, CAA’s students appear to have intellectual and/or physical disabilities. But peruse the College’s website, read their marketing materials, or listen to one of the faculty or volunteers, and you won’t get much information about disabilities at all.

You are, however, almost sure to hear the term “differing abilities.” It’s almost as if “disability” doesn’t actually exist - only different levels of ability. Sure, people with conditions like Down syndrome may not develop the same set of skills as people without them. But everyone has gifts and abilities on some level. CAA doesn’t tell us what those abilities are or should be. They simply help their students explore and expand their abilities through various paths.

As a result, anyone who's ever heard a CAA student speak at one of their events has probably noticed they exude self-confidence, and have a great deal of camaraderie and a sense of community with their classmates and their families.

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By Danielle Weaver

Denae ProsserWhy choose CAA? Because it changes lives. Simple as that. My sister Denae, born with a development disability, spent her whole life wanting to be like her older sister and brother. She stood quietly watching her sister do plays, her brother excel at water polo and waited. She cheered them on as they graduated from high school. When her time came to walk across that stage she was thrilled.  She cheered as they graduated from community college and with their bachelors. But a realization came to her. She might never be able to go to college and graduate.

That’s where CAA comes into play. In 2010, I helped her fill out her application for College of Adaptive Arts. One thing she wanted. She wanted to graduate from college and get a degree. Denae started taking classes and I was fortunate to sit in on one of the performance classes. The curriculum was not watered down but things that I had learned in one of the few theatre college classes I took. But beyond that the professors did not talk down to the students but treated them like adults. I was impressed.

Denae always loved to draw. She would fall asleep with the old Magna doodle toy. She started taking art classes at CAA. Her art suddenly became alive. Bright colors, defined technique and beautiful pictures. It was very Denae.  She had the freedom to express herself and a new found pride in her work. From dragons to wolves, her art exploded. Denae gained a new found pride in her ability.

In 2014 Denae walked across the stage at the College of Adaptive Arts spring graduation ceremony. She had completed 120 units of college courses. Mostly art classes. At that moment Denae had achieved her one goal. She had graduated from college. The pride she gain was unspeakable. The techniques she learned were real and Denae was an artist.  Denae also had something my brother and I couldn’t claim. She was able to display her art work at the De Young museum.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_performance.jpg

The past two winters in San Jose haven't produced much precipitation, but inspiration has been raining on me. Little did I know when I opened the San Jose Mercury News that chilly December morning, I would read an article that would change my life. The feature told the story of this remarkable institution of higher education called the College of Adaptive Arts and how it was giving adults with varying disabilities the opportunity to perform, create, sing and dance.

As I read the story, I felt a tangible tug on my heart and a voice almost audibly whispered in my ear, "you need to direct a musical for them." Eagerly, I found the contact information embedded in the piece and contacted Pam and DeAnna. Our first-ever meeting at the Cup and Saucer Restaurant was more like a reunion! Three old friends who had never met before. It was magical! It was like I had known these women all my life as we talked and cried and planned and talked and planned and cried some more. I honestly felt that God has sent me to work with this college, and that's what I set out to do.

We planned our first summer show, Footloose, and set the wheels in motion to make it happen. I picked the songs, acquired a choreographer and secured the b2ap3_thumbnail_performance2.jpgperformance space at Pioneer High School. As rehearsals began at the CAA campus, I was overwhelmed by the energy, love and dedication of the the CAA actors, dancers and singers. I remember Amber, our choreo, coming to me on that first day saying she was out of material to teach. I asked her why, and she said she had only planned on doing one number the first day, and that the cast had learned it in 20 minutes instead of the 90 she had in mind! So, she improvised and taught the students two more songs.

The energy and excitement of opening night was palpable and the show was an over-the-moon, sensational hit; but something that happened midway through the rehearsal schedule convinced me I had finally found a home for my talents. A young, wheelchair-bound actor had impressed me during rehearsals with her energy, enthusiasm and drive. But, on this day, she wasn't there her usual 15 minutes early. As I was preparing for the day's work, I looked up to see her literally crawling towards me on the floor, pulling herself with just her arms. I called her name and said "what's wrong?" She looked up and me, smiled and simply said..."the elevator is broken and NOTHING is going to keep me from rehearsal!"

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b2ap3_thumbnail_jonbeck.jpgby June Beck

Put on a musical style movie or a disney song and dance TV show, and our son, Jon, is in motion.  He loves the music, the dance and the sense of theater, but until CAA, this was a private connection for Jon mostly with his TV.

We feel that Jon who, has DS and is 40 years old, has a pretty remarkable life.  He finished his schooling with an independent living certificate from Gavilan College.  He has had a job at the local pharmacy since 1997, volunteers in his community, is well know around town, in his church, and lives independently from family in his own home.  What is not to like?  

There was a void in his life….in that there was not a place or a group of people that he could comfortably associate with and participate in life long learning. We longed for something that was actually structured to teach and build skills, not just entertain.  

This void was was filled by College of Adaptive Arts.  He now has a place to perform, recreate, connect socially with others and enjoy his love of music, theater and dance.  When the golf program was added, Jon was definitely “all in.”  Instead of an occasional game and the six weeks per year of Special Olympic golf, Jon has opportunity to keep his golf going much of the year.

College of Adaptive Arts has been a wonderful outlet for Jon, giving him opportunity to develop skills, maintain friendships, and gives him a creative outlet for all that energy previously directed at his TV.  When Angels on Stage was formed, we were delighted to hear about it, but sad that Jon was already too old to participate.  

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By Mary Pizzo

b2ap3_thumbnail_jeana.jpgA traditional collegiate experience would not be possible for my daughter. Her special needs – both physical and intellectual, cannot be satisfied in large groups, auditorium sized lecture halls and one-to-many teacher/student ratio. In a traditional college setting, she would be isolated due to limited social skills, occasional seizures and intellectual delay.

CAA bridges her desire to develop artistically and personally. It provides an academic structure through wide range of art courses. The collaboration between students on projects fosters a community of friendship, respect and shared success.

CAA’s mission of providing a collegiate experience which develops the student physically, emotionally and intellectually is just right for my daughter. I encourage others to contact CAA to arrange for a visit and see for themselves their creative student body and faculty.

Mary Pizzo

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My voyage to the land of disability began three weeks before my 40th birthday with an eye infection. From there I was catapulted into a world of doctors, appointments, pills, drops, and injections. I was not consulted and I was not given time to reflect and feel. It was almost a blessing that my husband is a scientist. Facts are facts, objective and unemotional, they just are. Four years later I was having surgery to remove a tumor. Some of my issues came to an end, some quieted down a bit, and brand new ones appeared.Pam Lindsay, Lex Cooke from StackMap and Suzanne

My eyesight didn't escape or get a reprieve. Because of the infection, disease, medication, and laser treatments, I was left with no peripheral vision, spotty direct vision, and some dead photoreceptors.

I couldn't see to read or watch TV. I stopped cooking (I couldn't see the cooking shows that I enjoyed watching), I stopped crocheting. My eye doctors didn't say or do much except to caution me against getting new eyeglasses because the edema was changing and to make another appointment in a few weeks. When I finally broke down (tears and all) and told my doctor that I stopped reading, she sent me to an optometrist who sent me to a low vision specialist. I was then declared legally blind by the state of California. I even got a certificate, suitable for framing. The DMV took my license. The Department of Rehabilitation sent a gentleman to our apartment who got me signed up for cane training. Who knew that you needed a class to learn how to operate a cane?

As all of this was happening, I was laid off from work (unrelated) and my feet, which had fractured many times, were declared healed but I had to wear prescription shoes, which are as stylish as they sound.

The day came for cane training and after we figured out which size cane was good for me, I took off running with the trainer trailing behind. I don't know how I came to this epiphany, but I decided that just because I needed a cane, doesn't mean that I was no longer a citizen of society. Just because I couldn't see didn't make me invisible. But people do have their reactions.

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Welcome parents and graduates. All the graduates have been working very hard to get to this point. Graduation for many of my classmates has been just a dream. This event today shows everyone here that it is possible. There are many people we need to thank. First thanks go to DeAnna and Pam for founding CAA. We also need to acknowledge our parents. If not for our parents, we would not know anything about College of Adaptive Arts. Our Parents help us navigate the course catalog and decide where to use our talents. Our Parents help get to classes and help us achieve our dreams. Next, we need to thank our talented Professors who nurture our minds. They refresh our talents. They are not just teachers they are our coaches, cheering us on in each class and helping us reach b2ap3_thumbnail_aine3.jpgour dreams. Finally we need to thank our classmates because they help get over our troubles.

Graduation for many of us is the next step on the yellow brick road to our future. On this path, we have dealt with many wicked witches. The wicked witches in our lives were the people who said we could not do this. We heard so much that we began to believe it. CAA is the water that melts the witch. In addition, Graduation becomes a reachable thing. Graduab2ap3_thumbnail_aine2.jpgtion is no longer a dream. Congrats, graduates, graduation and our futures are no longer somewhere over the rainbow.

As the great, Rosa Parks said, “Each person must live their life as a model for others.” Graduates we need to remember this quote because each of us lives our lives as an example. We have overcome the wicked witch of negativity. We are role models and heroes to others. Graduation is possible, reaching your goals are possible and just like Rosa believed that riding in the front seat of the bus was for all. Therefore, we believe that education is accessible to everyone. We are not people defined by our disabilities but our abilities. Our abilities make us unique and stronger.

Today we say thank you for joining on this journey along the yellow brick road to our future. As Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home”. CAA is home for so many of us and we are grateful that you have taken time to join us on this journey.

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We are not just Board Members; we are Mountain Movers

I will never forget the moment I first heard about CAA.  Jeremy, a participant in my FITBuddies group at FIT in Los Altos, came running in one afternoon shouting, “Jen, I am going to college!!”  I returned his excitement and then asked him where. He responded, “Far, far away.”  Needless to say, I was extremely happy to learn that “far, far away” meana1sx2_Thumbnail1_jenp.jpgt San Jose.  Shortly thereafter, Jeremy’s dad. Bill, introduced me to DeAnna Pursai, and the relationship quickly developed. A few months later, I was officially a Mountain Mover.

In the early days of CAA, DeAnna decided that she did not want to call us “Board Members” and that “Mountain Movers” more accurately described the goal: to move mountains for adults with disabilities.  My first reaction was that it was a fun, cute way to describe the Board and those who were involved in CAA.  Every time something exciting happened—a new grant awarded, new students, new community partnerships and events—an e-mail is sent with a title such as, “the mountain just moved” or “that mountain just creaked.”  After spending a little time at CAA, one quickly realizes that Mountain Movers is much more than a creative way of referring to CAA’s board.

Whether you are a board member, professor, staff, student, parent, volunteer or donor, you are a Mountain Mover.  This term does not identify one particular role; it identifies an entire community.  The Board alone can’t move the mountain; neither can ab2ap3_thumbnail_caaboard2015.jpg student nor professor  nor staff member nor volunteer. It takes an entire Mountain Moving community and that is exactly what DeAnna and Pamela have built.

The term Mountain Mover has also created an equitable relationship among all who are involved with CAA.  As CAA’s Board Chair, my role is not more important than that of a staff member or a volunteer because we are all on this mountain together with a firm understanding that it only moves when we work together.

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In 2009 a friend suggested I might look into College of Adaptive Arts, she thought it would be an ideal environment for David.  My now 34 year old son David loves to dance and definitely loves an audience.  College of Adaptive Arts - listed as a conservatory of Arts for adults with differing abilities - a mouthful for sure, but it peeked my curiosity and decided to look further into it.

What I found was 2 very enthusiastic and dedicated ladies, acting on a dream and following their hearts.  DeAnna Pursai and Pamela Lindsay, the co-founders of College of Adaptive Arts; talk about enthusiasm, these ladies were loaded with contagious energy and ideas.  We signed up David to begin in the following (and second) semester of the school.

The small group of approximately 12 students in first semester had grown to about 20 students in the second semester, participated in weekly classes.  It didn't take long for them to begin performing out in the community - at Senior Centers, other programs, at Barnes & Nobles, Great America, at Christmas in the park (to this day, one of the student's all time favorite).  It seems every semester there are more students joining and more classes being added.

More than once I've been asked what is it about this program that keeps me there and how does it differ from other existing programs?  One thing for sure, this is a program where the participants do NOT "have to" be there, instead they "want to" be there.  I think about my son and how his self-confidence has increased (my husband says David "struts") since he joined CAA.   I look at all the other students and am so impressed at what they are capable of and CAN do. 

From an autistic student who normally is like a butterfly - in constant motion - yet, very able to stay in place and go through a whole performance routine with no issues.  To the student who during the first class sat with his back to the class covering his face, who now doesn't hesitate one bit to get on stage and put his whole self into a performance routine.

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CAA - How did it start?

CAA Blog Spot-Entry #1

by DeAnna Pursai and Pamela Lindsay

Welcome to our new website, courtesy of our wonderful team of CAA Mountain Mover leaders and complemented by the exquisite and wonderful expertise of our webmaster, Nancy Clothier.  Each week, we’ll provide a new perspective on our Blog from either myself or co-founder & Dean of Instruction, Pamela Lindsay, a wonderful board member, a CAA student, a Professor or staff member, or from a parent of a CAA student.  

So I guess we’ll begin at the beginning.  Here’s the start of the beautiful story of the College of Adaptive Arts.  We’ll just give you a bit of a snapshot from the early years.

We began the College of Adaptive Arts in July, 2009.  We know that larger forces at work conspired to bring us together – we have been like soul sisters since the day we met.  Our birthdays are just one day apart and we so very much complement each other’s skill sets: working in tandem in the philosophy that we divide & conquer, continually check-in and brainstorm, listen a lot, give continual support & laugh often!

We rented out a space at Capitol Dance in the Princeton Plaza of San Jose two days a week for $50/day.  It seemed like an inordinate amount of money at the time, but we had enrolled 12 students for that first musical theatre class, so at least we knew our bills would be covered.  The first day we opened our doors, no students showed up.  Not to worry – we deemed it a teacher work day.  By the end of that 3-week session, we had 12 students enrolled and we did a marvelous rendition of songs from Jesus Christ Superstar.

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