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Posted by on in News
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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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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