A Special Sister Story

I’m sitting with my sister tonight as she is diligently working on her homework assignment from her College of Adaptive Arts Film Studies class, which is to watch her very favorite tv show of all times, Life Goes On, with her very favorite actor of all time, Chris Burke who plays Corky Thatcher. I’m mesmorized observing her furrowed brow intently focused on being a college student and knowing she can be successful with her assignment. My heart is full.

I co-founded College of Adaptive Arts in 2009 with my business partner, Pamela Lindsay, to give an equitable collegiate experience to adults with special needs who historically have not had access to college education. Certainly my inspiration for co-founding College of Adaptive Arts has been my experience growing up with such a beautiful sister.

When Angel was born on August 8, 1973, my mom told me the story that the baby was immediately whisked away, and a doctor came in about 10 minutes later and told my mom that unfortunately the baby she just delivered would never be able to walk, talk, clothe herself, feed herself, and it was recommended that the baby be placed in an institution. My my vividly told me that she knew there was no way they had time to do any tests. She feared the worst that the baby was severely deformed. She demanded to see her baby.  Coming from rural Indiana with a high school degree, my mom is not one to mince words. She said she held that warm, soft, snuggly, baby, counted 10 fingers and 10 toes, and told the doctor, “Thanks but no thanks, I’m taking my baby home, and don’t ever step in this room again!”

So that’s how my life changed as Angel came into our family 16 months after I was born. My memories of Angel are ones of laughter, singing, dancing, comedy, and so much joy. One of my most vivid childhood memories is watching the Dallas show with my family on Friday nights – wondering who killed JR Ewing. My entire family (and I think everyone in America) was glued to the TV on Friday nights in the late seventies and early eighties. During commercials, my job was to hold a wooden spoon as a microphone and introduce my sister in the middle of the living room performing various acts of singing and dancing. She often wore a towel wrapped around her neck as a cape. She was absolute boundless in her energy to sing, dance, and entertain.

I distinctly remember the frustration I would feel, though, when she would go out in the community, and behaviors that I had just watched her do at home, she would not do out in the community.  Often she wouldn’t talk, or she would ask someone to get her something, or just completely shut down; it was absolutely maddening to observe. I began to realize that she had a keen sense of awareness of how she was being received by others. If others treated her like a normal person, she would naturally act her normal self. If they treated her like a baby, she enjoyed the special treatment of being overly coddled. If she could tell that they thought she had no abilities, she had no problem just not responding at all. It made me realize how astutely keen she was to other’s perceptions of her abilities.

Comedy has always been her true and natural gift. My mom told me once of a time when Angel was a teenager and mom took her to a Bible study class on Wedneday night. Each person in the class had a chance to say a prayer out loud at the end of the class. When it was Angel’s turn, she waited until the room was quiet and then proceeded to pray, “Dear Lord, please let my mom stop cussing.” She very much knows how to get a laugh, and her timing is still absolutely impeccable.

It has been my highest honor to join forces with Pamela Lindsay to begin College of Adaptive in 2009. I certainly know first-hand that these adults are so very capable and joyful and so hungry to learn and show that they too can be successful contributing citizens to the best of their abilities. They want a safe and engaging place to continue to learn and grow and flourish to the full potential. CAA adjusts the metaphorical lens of adults with special needs from a focus on their disabilities to a focus on their abilities. It has been a riveting and transformative ride, and we are seeking everyone out there interested to help be a part of history in the making to take this educational model nationwide to provide a lifelong, equitable collegiate experience. My sister, Angel, guides me each day to explore new possibilities, celebrate the journey, and never, ever give up.

“Thanks Pam & De” by Janet Heathcote, Director, CAA School of Dance

It is December, which means I am fully immersed in the joyful chaos of Nutcracker Season. Long rehearsals, so many emails, sore muscles, costume mishaps, more emails, anxious phone calls, changing schedules, excited dancers, proud families, lots of performances and grateful audiences.

Thank goodness for an understanding husband that enjoys Christmas shopping, cooking and keeps smiling when I tell him CAA has a performance on Christmas Eve😉

It is a joyful time to reflect on all the CAA Audiences that have been profoundly affected by the beauty each dancer brings to a dance piece. Dance lovers inherently understand that beauty is in the movement at that precise moment in time—-raw, fleeting, unique, chaotic and joyful. They get to experience that explosion of emotions with all of our CAA Dance Troupes. It is a unique Bay Area experience brought to audiences through College of Adaptive Arts and Pam & De.

Thanks to CAA, audiences around the Bay Area have had an opportunity to experience performances by those with Differing Abilities for these past ten years. Those

initial introductions to what a Differently Abled Dancer/Performer can bring to a Performance has turned to a clamoring for MORE. More opportunities to perform, more acceptance and more desire to see the CAA model replicated in their areas beyond the Bay Area. Thanks Pam & De.

Thanks to Pam & De and their Vision of what a College Experience could be like, I have a very happy son attending stimulating classes. He is a poet, an artist and Latizmo Dancer. He has worked on CAA’s Award Winning Show and written songs in class. When he was born 29 years ago, I couldn’t have imagined such a perfect school for him.

Thanks to Pam & De and their Vision of having a workplace filled with staff with Differing Abilities, I have a son with a job he loves.

Thanks to Pam & De and their Vision of what the Arts could look like, I get to teach & dance with the most open, loving, talented dancers in the Bay Area. CAA embraced my homeschooling little Red and made her a Jr. Cardinal. She has blossomed in such a great part due to being surrounded by her tribe- the Differently Abled Artsy Crowd at CAA….Best crowd to hang with, EVER!

Thank you for giving me a front row seat to “Ten” wonderful years of watching CAA change hearts and minds in the Bay Area and beyond. Thank you for blessing my family with your Vision and for giving all our performers a stage to shine on.

Now back to answering emails and booking Dance Performances for 2019!

Bringing the Community Together by CAA TV/Film Director Matt Lindsay

For almost two hours, the energy in the small theater in 3 Below was ecstatic as members of CAA, the students, and filmmakers around the community and beyond joined together to celebrate the talents and amazing stories told about or performed by adults and children with differing abilities. And even after everyone had left the theater to converse in the theater’s small café afterwards for a Meet and Greet, connections and bonds were still being forged by all those involved.

As a Director of the TV and Film Department at The College of Adaptive Arts, I oversee a few projects, both on campus and out in the community, that help CAA and its student body become more prominent in the community. And none is more exciting, more rewarding, than the film fest we hold every year. It does take a lot of work from a whole ensemble of talented staff members as well as some from those owning the venue we hold the event at. But the success of this event is always worth it; seeing our students interacting with professional filmmakers and other members of San Jose (and beyond) and being on equal terms with them both socially and professionally is a truly humbling experience.

Moments like this are what make my time here at CAA worth it. And I know I am not the only one who believes this. These moments also help one realize how blessed we are to work in this environment and move mountains. The students have an energy about them that is infectious in the best of ways, and I am always happy to share that feeling with others. The College of Adaptive Arts has helped grow and cultivate professional and admirable adults in not just the students, but myself as well. Even after two full years (and a few more as an intern/volunteer beforehand), they teach and support me as much as I teach and support them. CAA is a safe, neutral harbor for everyone to be equals working together for a common, unifying goal. If anyone ever doubts their ability to understand, let alone make, anything their mind wishes to share or create, they should remember one vital lesson: If our students can create films or do anything that can be shared and enjoyed by others, everyone can do it too. We can all move mountains.

How Reading and Writing Classes Impact our CAA College Students by School of Communications Director, Danielle Weaver

Reading and Writing classes at CAA are always some of the most engaging, thought-provoking and popular classes at CAA. Currently, CAA offers 2 classes that focus on reading, 2 grad classes and finally 1 class that focuses on reading and writing.  They are very popular and well attended.

As I was thinking of the Theme for our Communications Showcase in February this word struck me. Metamorphosis.  Which is often what I see when our students attend communication classes.  Especially in reading and writing.

The definition of metamorphosis is as followed: a change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one, by natural or supernatural means.

Imagine the first day of class an student who maybe like books or reading but is shy and doesn’t want to participate in the reading aloud portion of the class, however, they sit and listen. Listen to the discussions of themes, words, characters and more importantly be present in class. They sit and listen as others read and listen as their classmates share what they think about the book or novel we are reading as a class. Then at the end of the quarter, the shy student’s hand goes up and they want to read. Turns out they can read very well but are nervous to share their voice.

This is what metamorphosis means. Giving them the opportunity to learn about themes, read books that were never considered, learn about characters and how they impact our world, allow them to read. But most importantly gives them the chance to try. To break out of their worldview and examine a new worldview.

I often hear from parents that their special individual likes books and movies. But doesn’t read. I often think to myself, have they been able to try? Reading and Writing classes allow them to try.  And often with just the chance to try. Our students succeed and come back to and take reading and writing classes over and over again.

Danielle Weaver, Director & Professor, School of Communications
College of Adaptive Arts

An Ensemble of Love

I love our College of Adaptive Arts community with all of my heart and soul.  I love our Mountain Mover board members who pour their heart, soul, time, treasure and talents into growing this collegiate model strategically and mindfully. I love our CAA students who show us each day what it means to live in the moment and celebrate each small victory.  I love the co-founder, Dean of Instruction, and my authentic soul sister who challenges me daily to think differently and redefine possibility. I love our CAA parents who bring the students, ask hard questions, support this model in a myriad of small and grand ways, and never, ever give up on the abilities and potential of their adult children.

I love how each day the students return and bring their friends to learn from the most dedicated staff of teachers and leaders, many of whom have life paths for many reasons where they have also felt marginalized. Here at CAA they are our Leaders, and Professors, and Site Managers, and front-line Believers in the CAA college students and their boundless potential.

Each day you can hear booming laughter emanating from the classrooms. Each day you hear positive affirmations of support and encouragement and celebration of yet another skill achieved when it wasn’t the day before. Each day you sense the bar expectation raise ever so slightly in every class and every conversation. Each day you sense this mountain which as obstructed adults with special needs access to lifelong education is shifting just a little bit more.

I love how I have an expansive network of awesome folks who come together for the sake of their loved ones.  We are a community of individuals from all ethnicities, backgrounds, political positions, religious differences, and economic levels.  I truly believe one of the hardest jobs in the entire world is to be a careprovider for a loved one. It is tireless, anguishing, exhausting work.  This dedication to a loved one transcends all other societal-imposed definitions, and it’s so beautiful to watch the bonds emerge and strengthen when we all realize we are here to support each other, to support our loved ones, and to never give up on their abilities and potential.

We do not always see eye to eye; we do not always agree, but we figure out a way to work together and forge new and creative opportunities for the students to be able to showcase their authentic abilities. It feels so awesome and so right and so ripe for possibility. I encourage you to come in and experience this sense of joy each and every Friday during our weekly tour when school is in session. The students win over another heart/mind/soul each and every time they connect with the community at large. College of Adaptive Arts is truly an Ensemble of Love.

DeAnna Pursai, Co-Founder & Executive Director
College of Adaptive Arts

CAA’s Artists and SCU’s SCCAP Students Create Art and Inspirational Friendships

Over the last few years, College of Adaptive Arts has formed special relationships with college students from Santa Clara University’s Santa Clara Community Action Program (SCCAP). Part of SCCAP’s mission is to create “leaders of competence, conscience and compassion.” Numerous SCU students have volunteered countless hours creating meaningful relationships with CAA students especially students in the art department.

Artists anticipate the arrival of their new friends each quarter. Several SCU students have spent hours with the same artist creating a fun and unique learning experience for both. I’ve had the great pleasure to watch theses blossoming relationships using art as a vehicle for teaching, trust, and friendship. During CAA’s Spring Quarter, SCCAP students hosted an art show of over 25 CAA artists.

SCCAP student, Liah D’sa coordinated the beautiful event held at SCU’s Mission Garden surrounded by palm trees and roses. The evening couldn’t have been better as supportive family and SCU students honored our artists and all their hard work. It was truly moving observing our artists excitement as SCU friends stopped by to check out their artwork.

I am so grateful for the time and compassion the college students have poured into our artists. College of Adaptive Arts will continue to foster these meaningful and inspirational friendships as our artists grow and Santa Clara University SCCAP students become emerging leaders in the community.

By Nicole Ferguson
Director & Professor, CAA School of Art          

Giving the Gift of Hope

Last Friday morning the College of Adaptive Arts Mountain Movers Board hosted a Thank You Breakfast for Parents, Careproviders, Volunteers, and Staff.  Here’s a story of overcoming adversity and Giving the Gift of Hope shared by our incredible College of Adaptive Arts School of Science and Technology Director:

Because of my disability I had very little work experience and was never able to finish even a AA degree. The job I had for 12 years at CVS was actually my first job.  Working for you is my second.

Normally, working with special needs young adults would require a specialized teaching degree. Same for working in the IT field. The IT field requires some kind of tech degree. Both require experience before your resume is even considered.  I had little to no “official” experience. I really spent years in recovery from a mental illness that happened when I was in my teenage years.

What I did have was years of personal experience learning technology as I went along. I also had years of experience learning tech and art topics at Foothill College. I never got to earn my AA, but I did earn multiple certificates, and I actually earned an A in almost every course I took and almost every assignment I turned in.

I’ve worked very hard in life to go somewhere. Yet I struggled to gain any type of employment.

When you hired me and I found myself in an environment of kindness, acceptance, and dignity, and yes respect, and you freed me from an oppressive job, it has been one of the greatest breaks in my life.

I wanted to point out today how the college not only rescues our students, helps student’s parents, but it also gives the faculty a break in their careers/life as well. I’m saving lives, my life is being saved, we’re all doing such great work!

When you say transformative, I feel so proud of what I have accomplished while working for you and the college. From the professional Wi-Fi and phone system, to the three AV carts, to laptop purchases and working on the website and print stuff with Linda and video editing and day to day IT needs, installing a new PA system, and installing our new computer lab. Not to mention teaching and helping to teach classes! I was also very proud to become the Director of the School of Science and Technology.

I wanted to just touch on some of this.  Now I want to work on my public speaking skills. You might see me get up at the next Staff Showcase. ; )

Thank you from my heart,


Help CAA Grow by CAA Board Member Joseph Siecinski

I’ve had the honor and privilege of working with the College of Adaptive Arts for many years. As a business consultant, coach and mentor, I know this organization is laying the foundation strategically and tactically to scale and replicate nationwide, no worldwide.  I have seen this organization grow from a small venture at Randol school to a thriving college serving an ever-expanding student body with currently over 100 of adult learners, and 9 schools.  We have grown 1000% since our inception.  As a board member I witness and ensure CAA is very mindful of each penny to make sure that it is used wisely.  We are innovative and responsive to our students needs and wants. Our Vision is to get to the operation budget of 2 million in the next 3 years to and take this model nationwide.  I have seen lots of nonprofits and for-profits in my years of business consulting, and I can vouch that this is the real deal.  We need your help in finding a college campus to co-locate to prove our model.  We look for your help.  If you know someone that can help, let us know.  If you don’t, your donations are greatly appreciated.

Honoring Kim Rains’ Legacy

Kim Rains was an exceptional human being.  Kim was kind, caring, funny, intelligent, passionate, visionary.  I was looking back this week on all of the videos she helped produce over the years for the college.  She did so very much for us to grow this collegiate model of education since the very beginning.  She was in almost all of our CreaTV PSAs, in our original marketing videos, she was CAA’s first valedictorian, she gave the student speech at our Giving Breakfast in May.  She was the interviewer for Ms. Wheelchair CA, Ms. Wheelchair America, and Richard Alexandre Rittelmann, a world-renowned European opera singer.  She would often contribute amazing ideas for new classes, new dance choreography, and more opportunities to showcase abilities in the community.  She was a true leader.

I would love to watch her at a site when a guest would walk through our doors.  More times than not, she would stop what she was doing, make a bee-line to the guest, one hand firmly thrust out for a handshake mid-stride while the other hand firmly on her trach as she marched across the floor to introduce herself and let the guest know that she was a student leader and ambassador to our college.  I would love to be on her heels as she often caught guests a bit off-guard with a follow-up that Kim is our very first valedictorian of our college.  I would love to watch the faces of each guest when they were trying to reconcile what they were seeing and hearing, and you for the overwhelming majority, they would break into a wide grin of sheer joy.

In one of our very first marketing videos, she stated that she wanted to start her own ministry.  Then, in the last video I took of her when she visited our art faire on November 4, she had said she was sorry for ministering, at which time I said you can minister to us forever.  She said, Ok, and proceeded to say this world is about Faith, Love, and Caring.

I believe that Kim was able to realize her life’s dream of starting her own ministry in the short time I think she knew she had to share with us on this earth.  I am not a very religious being by nature, but when I was in her presence, I very clearly felt a divine force that was simply incredible to experience.

I think at the very fundamental level that force is love, and it still strongly runs through me each time I remember Kim’s wide smile and liberal chuckle where she would crinkle up her eyes and heave her shoulders in laughter.  She would often tell me, DeAnna, you are the best teacher in the world.  And I sensed that she meant it with all of her being.  I felt so safe, so inspired, so loved.  When I was around Kim I felt like that was the best moment of my life – that nothing else mattered except for the human bond taking place at that very moment.  I believe I was feeling unconditional love and caring, and I believe that Kim knew exactly what she was doing to bring out the very best in each of us.  Kim most definitely achieved her goal of starting her own ministry.

As I look at the vibrant picture of Kim holding that fan, I hear Kim continue to minister to me every day.  Through this picture I hear the message, “You’re on the right track, De & Pam – don’t give up.”  It’s great that adults with disabilities have jobs in this world where they are holding brooms or cleaning cloths or pushing carts.  These are noble and essential tools.  However, our true contributions and gifts to the world are when you give an adult with a disability a microphone or a paintbrush or a prop such as a fan.” That’s when their true essence can shine through, and we are all better human beings through experiencing their joy and abilities.

And I think often to myself how hard it is to keep going sometimes with this college model, and how often I fail in my attempt to get others to understand.  But then I look at this photo and I hear her words, I feel her love, I sense her ministry, “You’re on the right track.  I got up everyday for 39 years when often the world was not on my side, and you can do it to.” And I thank Kim for sharing her vision with us.  And I reaffirm my pledge to her and to you that we will not give up showcasing the authentic abilities, gifts, and passions of adults of all abilities.  I love you, Kim Rains – you are my true hero forever and always.

-DeAnna Pursai

A Wonderful Situation

Robby Sanderson is a 42-year-old young man born with Down Syndrome.  Since Robby left the public-school system at age 22, he has struggled finding a day program that fits his needs.  He started classes almost two years ago at College of Adaptive Arts and he has never been happier.  College of Adaptive Arts (CAA) works really well for Robby for the following reasons:

  • He likes structure.  With the way CAA classes are laid out, Robby knows for the quarter what he will be doing during the classes he is taking.  When each quarter begins, the instructors explain what they will be covering during the quarter and they stick to the schedule.  Robby does not do well with change so having a schedule works really well for him.
  • He enjoys sharing his ideas about what is included in the classes. The instructors at CAA work with the students to incorporate their ideas in the schedule.  For example, the Performance Theater class instructor lets the students help write the scripts for the short plays they perform.   Robby loves when one of his ideas become part of the script.
  • He has choices. CAA has a variety of classes so Robby gets to pick the classes that interest him.  The choice of which classes he takes is up to him.
  • He loves having so many friends. CAA promotes an environment of inclusion.   Robby is not only encouraged by the instructors to just do his best but often the other students will encourage him to not give up and to just keep trying.

CAA is a great program for students with special needs.  The instructors work very hard to make sure all of the students have a good experience.  The best part is all students are treated as adults and are respected by the instructors, the administrators and other students.