An Inspiring Message from CAA’s Board Chair Joe Siecinski

Hello Mountain Movers,

I am very disappointed I cannot be there to celebrate our 10.10 Epic 10-Year Anniversary in person.  I wanted to pass this on to the team and to the community:

It is my honor and pleasure to work with this amazing organization.  A great man once said, “if you want to change the world, change the way you look at the world”.  We are changing the way the world looks at things and thereby changing the world.  I would like to thank the board, staff, volunteers and most of all the students we serve.

We have come such a long way with the guidance and leadership of our esteem cofounders Pam and DeAnna.  From a 1 room, 1 school with 12 students to an organization with over 120 students, 10 schools and a staff of 32.

Congratulations team!!!

We are now moving the Mountain and the best is yet to come.  We have an aggressive plan a dedicated board and a devoted staff.  We are taking the leap of faith to get to a self-sustaining funding model to expand across the Americas and the world!

With the support of the community we will move this mountain.  We will be self-sustaining and we will change the world.

I look forward to the coming years and all the contributions we will make to world!!  It is MY HONOR and PRIVLEDGE to be associated with this phenomenal Team.

Thank YOU and Go CAA


Kim’s Story – CAA’s Inaugural Valedictorian of 2013

CAA Kim’s Story

In early September 2009 my daughter Kimberly and I heard about a new performing arts college & were told by a friend that the directors were beginning to hold interviews at a dance studio, in a mall, for folks interested in this newly formed college. I thought that was very interesting. My daughter, Kim, was 31 years old at that time. She had Down Syndrome and a Tracheostomy tube for breathing. My expectations were both high and low regarding this college. Kim was very high functioning…. She had many years of dance training but her trach?????

Her trach held her back from many opportunities, as she needed me or her Dad or a respite care nurse, to be with her at all times, to monitor her breathing. What did we really have to lose by going for an interview, I thought, plus Kim couldn’t wait to see what this college was all about! If it included dance & performing, she was “all in 100%”.

As we approached the dance studio, I could see two women sitting there waiting for us! I was nervous but Kim, being Kim, couldn’t wait for the interview to start!

I realized right away that these two women, DeAnna Pursai & Pam Lindsey, were the most loving two women (actually angels) that I could ever want to meet. True blessings.

We talked about Kim and when I started to talk about her tracheostomy…. DeAnna piped up and said… “TRAIN US!!!”. Tears still come to my eyes as I recall how sweet & accepting they were of Kim. Kim was enrolled in THE COLLEGE OF ADAPTIVE ARTS that very day!

Kim went on to perform not only dance (jazz, ballet & Latizmo), but she had opportunities to speak about this wonderful college! She also took part in theater performances and went to PayPal with her professor to learn more about public speaking. Eventually, she was chosen to be the Dance Department’s first student choreographer. Our biggest thrill of all was her becoming CAA’s first ever Valedictorian for the class of 2013! There were many graduating students in May 2013.

Students earned credits for classes they took. Kim earned many credits in her first few years at CAA. Any opportunity to be on stage, give a speech or announce a graduating student’s name made Kim’s day.

Our daughter Kim passed away on December 17, 2017 from a heart attack & cancer. The last two years of her life were spent mostly in the hospital and at home. Guess what??? She was able to Skype in to a class while at home or in her hospital room and take part in her CAA classes. She could see her fellow students & her boyfriend Robert using her iPad & they could see her! If there was a dance class, she could dance with her arms & her big smile. She felt good about herself, & in turn, she kept her will to live despite how fragile she was in those two years.

Kim would want the world to know that CAA is the greatest place in the world to mature, to grow in learning & public speaking and performing. DeAnna Pursai and Dr. Pam Lindsey are still the same wonderful, caring supportive angels they were the day we first met them.

Kim loved CAA. And so do we (her parents).

Submitted by: Candy Rains. 8/19/2019. Kim’s Mom.

A Breath of Fresh Air by Professor Sharon Lea

College of Adaptive Arts is a breath of fresh air for so many.

When you walk through the doors of this amazing college you feel invigorated and relaxed all at the same time. The joy is palpable as students want to talk about their life as a college student.  They are a CAA Cardinal and they beam with pride.

CAA is not only a place of learning – it is a place of healing for students and staff alike.

When I first came to CAA as a volunteer, life had handed me back-to-back blows knocking the wind out of me.  I couldn’t breathe at all.  I wanted to help others in some way to get myself back out into the world again and yet, I needed so much help myself.

In April 2012 I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. After five weeks of radiation treatment and subsequent surgeries, I was free and clear. My husband and I were so very thankful.  Gene testing showed I was at a low risk of reoccurrence.  The future was bright and we were so blessed to know we had gotten through such a tough time, together.

My Scott, saw me through it all.  But life knocked the wind out of us again.

In October, 2013, Scott was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive cancer.  He fought a brave fight, but within 9 months, Scott was gone.  The man who had helped me through my own cancer journey, was going to be my guardian angel now.

I was left reeling and wondering how two big tragedies could hit one right after another. I was in shock and I was numb.  Even though I was out and about, I couldn’t breathe.

Through a friend, I found CAA and started volunteering.  My first day, I walked into Pioneer High School where students were rehearsing Greasy Hairspray, one of CAAs many productions and I felt the fresh air as it entered my lungs. Something happened to me.

For the first time in a long time, I felt that I could breathe again and maybe in some ways for the first time. I too have a learning disability, even though I have an English degree and years of professional work experience under my belt.

The beautiful faces of our students, their positive energy and desire to learn made me get out of myself.  I was able to see the life I still had and the future that was mine. Everyone I met was overcoming something and growing stronger. I knew that I could too.

I still missed my husband dearly, but I knew that he would want me to be happy. I wanted to be happy and I knew happiness is a choice. Professor Jay Torres of Latizmo Hip Hop Productions tells her students to make a choice, take a chance and make a change.

CAA is an amazing college and our students show me every day that we are all on a glorious journey to be the best version of ourselves…which is enough already!

Perspective of a Longstanding Donor

CAA is such a great organization; I am amazed at its growth in just a few short years, all because of the persistence of leaders like DeAnna and Pam.

I trained and worked as a high school English teacher, many years ago.  My students were awesome.  Many of them were “Communication Skills” students, 9th and 10th graders who could barely read.  How they had graduated to the high school was perplexing.  They had a reading teacher, and I was their writing teacher.  There wasn’t much to that for most of them.  Getting the thoughts down on paper was working, but getting capital letters at the beginning of sentences and periods at the end was not working for all of them.

I couldn’t believe that so many people were so challenged.  I sent the most writing-challenged to the counselors for evaluation.  They came back to me with the answer that yes, they had identifiable problems, but no, the services were not available to help them.  Ugh.  At the same time, I continued my education by taking special education teacher classes, and getting my Master’s Degree in Education with a secondary emphasis.  The topic of my thesis was based on audio versus visual learning in the classroom.  I didn’t prove much, but I learned a lot about people and their brains.

That was many years ago.  I left the education field and went into the business world, which is where I met DeAnna Pursai, at a Chamber of Commerce meeting. She and Pam were getting into the non-profit world.  I was amazed at their goals, which aligned with my own experience.  By this time, I had my own special needs son, whom my husband and I helped navigate through both public and private education.  Today he is a successful special needs adult.

Donating to CAA helps other special needs adults to grow, prosper, and enjoy being successful.  Success is different for every human.  I encourage donating to CAA, so that more adults will have the opportunity to find their success.


Erin Benford
(408) 644-5159
CalBRE# 01372912
Condos to Castles in Silicon Valley

Two Very Special Behind-the-Scenes Mountain Movers

It is with the highest honor that College of Adaptive Arts introduces to you two integral Mountain Movers that work tirelessly behind the scenes to grow this innovative collegiate model: Richard Hermerding and Bobbi Tafoya.

Richard joined CAA in 2014 as their part-time CFO. He helped get all finances streamlined into Quickbooks and helped guide the organization to use monthly financial statements to grow strategically and prudently. He was the first to catch that CAA’s information had been compromised during the big Target breach many years ago. He has helped ensure we all know about depreciation and journal entries of logging gift cards. He attends each board meeting and has been a steadfast rock of strategic guidance and oversight. Since Richard has joined the Mountain Movers leadership team, CAA’s operational budget has more than doubled, and striving for financial health and sustainability is at the forefront of the Mountain Mover Leadership Team’s mindset.

Bobbi Tafoya is CAA’s monthly bookkeeper and Regional Center invoicing lead. She helps to code each and every transaction to the correct chart of account code, and she runs the monthly board reports in a timely and professional fashion. She is the one who also inputs attendance each month to the Regional Center portals for processing. She meticulously keeps track of how many units are left on each student’s Purchase of Service (POS), and she works professional with the Regional Centers to support the over 100+ students who now have their tuition covered each quarter by the Regional Centers.

These 2 CAA unsung heroes are gracious, professional, and diligently work behind the scenes to support and grow this innovative, lifelong collegiate model of education. They are both fully committed to helping to bring this model to full fruition so that it can replicate and sustain and being as robust and accessible to adults for education that Special Olympics provides for adults who want to keep participating in athletics.

These 2 leaders never ask for any credit, are never in the limelight, and are so very essential to the financial and procedural growth of College of Adaptive Arts. To Richard Hermerding & Bobbi Tafoya, College of Adaptive Arts Salutes and Honors you today and everyday as true Movers of the Mountain to illuminating and cultivating the authentic abilities of adult learners of all ages and abilities.

The Power of High Expectations

This month in College of Adaptive Arts 10th Anniversary of creation, we’d like to honor a very special professor this month in honor of LGBTQ Pride Month in June. Professor Jay Torres is an exceptional leader in the special needs community as well as the community at large.

College of Adaptive Arts was privileged enough to meet Jay in 2014 through a connection from the Director of the School of Dance. She visited a class one auspicious fall evening soon after we were forced to exit our original site due to a significant rent increase. The time was right for everyone to find each other, because Jay joined our staff soon afterwards. The College of Adaptive Arts’ students have blossomed, the School of Dance has blossomed, and Jay Torres has absolutely blossomed into an incredibly exceptional and exquisite human being.

Isabella Jay Torres gets a group hug from her adult students with disabilities following her Latizmo dance class at the College of Adaptive Arts in San Jose, California, on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. Latizmo is a combination of urban hip-hop, and salsa dancing created by Torres. (Gary Reyes/ Bay Area News Group)

Jay is an individual who has faced some keen complexities in life.  Having suffered significant abuse as a child, having entered into jobs to fulfill the wishes of others, and having experienced a bout of homelessness, Jay found College of Adaptive Arts. She confided later that she had never worked with special needs individuals before this time.

This turned out to be a profound blessing, because she treated her students just like any other student studying dance, with the highest expectations, constant guidance, and support, and lots of lots of repetition. She has never once felt sorry for her students, and in turn, her students pour their heart and soul out during her Latizmo classes, so hungry and eager to learn more and more complex choreography and dance moves. Finally these adults found someone who truly believes in them and does everything within her power to bring out the very best in the students.

I witnessed these expectations first-hand this past quarter on a Wednesday night during a Latizmo Dream Team touring practice. She had asked for an extra half hour of practice for the quarter to get the students ready for some wonderful touring opportunities including at the sjDANCEco dance festival and the Redwood City STEAMFest. During one of these lengthy practices, I overheard Professor Jay state, “That was o.k., but I know you can do better.” Other comments throughout the class included “You are a professional dance team, and I expect you to perform as such.” And “That was good, now do it again!”

I observed lots of lots of dedicated, exhausting, absolutely fulfilling practices.  Once she came over and started conversing with me during class while the students performed the entire, intricate dance routine entirely on their own. It was absolutely magical, and I could feel the pride of the students knowing that their professor cares and believe in their abilities through and through.

Another magical moment when was the Latizmo Hip Hop Dance Troupe had the opportunity to perform at Great America one summer for Disability Awareness Day. One of her students, below, was initially considered a shy, nonverbal student who had a hard time in the beginning even coming into class, let alone speaking into a microphone. After a year of relentless dedication and support, this student spoke into the microphone to a crowded audience the 3 bedrock tenants of Latizmo, Patience, Passion, and Perseverance.

Why Jay chose a positive path forward is a truly humbling and astounding testimony of the human spirit. This professor radiates love, compassion, and the highest expectations. It is the highest honor to have her as part of the College of Adaptive Arts family of Mountain Movers. Indeed, Professor Jay has created such a rich and engaging space of opportunity and possibility to allow her students to Move Mountains once regarded as insurmountable and impossible. And it has been with sincere patience, passion, and perseverance.

Learn more about Professor Jay Torres and Latizmo Hip Hop Productions Here:


A Riveting Parent Perspective

How do I begin to describe the wonder we named Kaleaha Marie Maldonado? We have been blessed to have her in our lives for 30 years. We were told average life expectancy of a Jacobsen Syndrome child was 2 years old. We were told this by a genetic counselor when she was 3 years old. That pretty much sums up the information from 1970 we had until Kaleaha was 5 years old.

Around this time, I learned of the human Genome Project: The main goals of the Human Genome Project were to provide a complete and accurate sequence of the 3 billion DNA base pairs that make up the human genome and to find all of the estimated 20,000 to 25,000 human genes.

How did this affect us? Thirty-five families from all over the USA agreed to meet at Southwestern University in Dallas Texas. It was going to be a costly trip, so we needed help. A wonderful radio show team called The Dog House the hosts JV (Jeff Vandergrift) and Elvis (Dan Lay) helped us out by doing a fundraiser. JV swan from Alcatraz Island to pier 39. JV did it! His team and listeners Raise enough money and got us to Dallas Texas.

We all met there, and that evolved into the 11Q R&R USA group. You can learn more about that by looking up That was the beginning of a parental community that help me navigate the rest of Kaleaha’s educational years. I learned about IEPs and different types of programs to request assistance for.

Kaleaha’s educational learning started with regional center programs like early intervention programs. She had to learn sign language at 1st since she couldn’t verbalize well until after age 3.  She was having multiple ear infections, and it took until this age to get her treatment to remove fluid from behind her ears to allow her to hear our voices.  Prior to this her hearing was as if she was underwater.

Kaleaha continued from 18 months all the way through 22 years old in the public education programs. After the age of 22 we had a few special day programs that we tried out for adults. This is where most of our difficulties began, we tried the various programs that would allow a 1:1 aid to assist Kaleaha.  After trying the multitude of adult special day programs that were available in our area.  I was pretty much ready to give up.

We switched Kaleaha to the Independent Living Skills program known as ILS. This worked out well for a little while a couple of years in fact.  Then we ran into difficulty with staffing so now we started using different companies. We always ran into the same problem staffing. It was never consistent, and this seriously affected Kaleaha’s mental and cognitive abilities, severely triggering her negative autistic tendencies.

We were incorporating ABA Therapies at the same time as using the ILS services, so we were able to hunker down refocus and bring her out of the cycle. Then we started looking for new programming.  With a referral we visited College of Adaptive Arts. We visited this campus. We were skeptical at first about its functionality with an individual who required a 1:1 aide.

Kaleaha’s ILS service provider thought it was worth a try she was very impressed with the progress she saw with her other clients. My fear held me back for a little bit, but I really wanted to get Kaleaha into a program that would provide her with more normalcy like she had throughout her previous educational years. I thought, “Well let’s give this a try.”

We selected some courses and arranged various caregivers. Kaleaha started her first day at College of Adaptive Arts. It took a little bit to find her groove but once she did, she took off like a rocket! She started participating in programs that got her back out into the community. Classes that rekindled her love with cheerleading. Reading and speech have become new interests for her. She participated and several events and her collegiate career has been on a fast track at lightning speeds ever since.

As a family, we do not believe Kaleaha would have accomplished the amount of success and overcome the many hurdles that she overcome had not been for the staff and programing at the College of Adaptive Arts. They have formatted a program that seeks out abilities and applies the knowledge to format a curriculum that allows individuals with different abilities to prosper and shine like the superstars they are.

Kaleaha is one of the lucky students to have found the wonderful staff and program that is The College of Adaptive Arts.  Please come a visit the program there is nothing to lose, but everything for your student to gain.

Spotlight on Graduate Student James

James Crownover has been a student at the College since the Fall of 2009. James is a natural performer and entertainer. He is very much most in his element when he is captivating an audience. James takes his job as an entertainer and performer very seriously. It is apparent that this talent is his innate gift and ability, and he regards this role as his true job and contribution to the community.

James has a very electrifying and engaging way of saying hello to the audience. When he delivers his booming laugh, his audience invariably just melts and is putty in his hands. He has performed well over 75 times over the years, from being Elvis at Christmas in the Park to being the Master of Ceremonies in his top hat and long tailcoat. James is kind, inclusive, and always has a warm smile for all his fellow classmates. He is a true gem to the College of Adaptive Arts, the entire Mountain Movers leadership team feel so proud to be able to showcase his authentic abilities.

I’m a Lucky Guy by Bruce Tirado, Father of CAA Student Ariel Tirado

I’m a lucky guy, lovely wife ✔, good son ✔, & sweet daughter ✔, let me share some of my lucky story with you, regarding the youngest in my family.  Ariel joined our family nearly 21 yrs ago, and was a pretty cool, calm & well collected little gal upon arrival.  Maria & I, were not so calm, but eventually we all settled in.  I never expected my daughter to be such a force, to have so much life, laughter & joy, she makes me laugh every day, and smile, and wonder, and generally feel quite cheerful, whenever I am in her orbit.  Ariel knows how to have fun, I don’t think there is room for a word such as “mundane”, in her vocabulary.  Just walking along, seemed to be a party, with this young lady (photographic evidence follows).

In addition to being a proud member of the CAA student body, Ariel is a “Make-A-Wish” gal.  Yup she took her entire family to Disneyland …. Ooops, I mean DisneyWorld, (her “Wish”) & so it was her treat, she flew our entire family out to Florida, put us up at a resort, had her own spending cash, and a fun time was had by all, for a solid week.  So not only did Ariel fight off cancer (A Complete Success), she took, her entire family, out on vacation along the way.  I love my Ariel, she is a kind gentle young lady, and her CAA community means the world to her, our entire family, appreciates the CAA community very much.  I sometimes say to Ariel I am her friend, and she says…. Nope,,,, I’m her father,,, I think I want to also be part of her community of friends, as her friends mean so very much to her.  CAA, means allot to Ariel, and Maria & I.   I’m so glad Maria met DeAnna & Pam those many years ago, we have enjoyed seeing Ariel blossom, with her community of friends, seeing the students, explore all their talents.   Ariel truly enjoys performance arts, and CAA has been a great experience…. Congratulations to the CAA Community, it’s been quite an excellent ride, 10yrs of Excellence, I/we are looking forward to the next 10.


Ariel’s Dad  (One of my very best titles)

Careproviders are Superheroes on Earth

I have had the honor of being my sister’s primary careprovider for the past 3 months. My sister is a 45 years-old, has Down syndrome, is severely overweight, has a 45 degree curvature in her spine, and has numerous other medical conditions.

I have never felt so exhausted, overwhelmed and exasperated while at the same time feeling so content and fulfilled. I have the most utter, deep respect and awe for careproviders. I believe they are the true superheroes on Earth. Here are some lessons I’ve gleaned and observations I’ve experienced while being my sister’s primary and full-time careprovider:

  • I did not know it was humanly possible to brush one’s teeth for a half hour. It is. On good days.
  • Bodily functions and all that entails are real, constant, unpredictable, gross, and ongoing, and utterly exhausting.
  • I had no idea that anyone could be stretched to the max and be pulled in so many different directions simultaneously – dealing with a broken refrigerator, and a husband’s surgery, and a ER visit for the sister, all while managing a teenager and all of her school pick-up/drop-off needs.
  • She could vacillate on a dime from being my sister holding a rational, typical adult conversations to becoming childlike and vunerable needing extreme and immediate support and care.
  • I realized that her demeanor directly reflected mine. The more I exhibited stress, irritability, the more she behaved the same. When I was mindful to keep my demeanor in a place of love, kindness, and serenity, she also would exhibit the same.
  • Maintaining healthy personal relationships with others in your life such as a spouse, friends, colleagues, and children is demanding, challenging, and anguishing and is an underlying source of tension and angst.
  • I experience unbelievable bursts of delightful, refreshing childlike innocence. She exclaimed one day, The ‘ups’ truck is here. I had no idea what she meant until I saw the brown UPS truck. I then realized when she kept saying she wanted to go to the ‘ups’ store, that is what she meant. Another time I had a long talk to her on the way to my college about how she had been mean to another student, and I needed her to do the right thing and apologize. She gave me a guilty look, pondered a moment, and exclaimed, ‘I came out here all this way for nothing!’
  • I realized how much I valued and appreciated the tips and advice from other careproviders, gaining valuable tricks and wisdom as we were passing each other and the hallway and experiencing brief bursts of respite sitting together during classtime.
  • Just when you think you’ve got one facet of life under control, another issue crops up at impeccably inconvenient times.
  • When providing care for another human being, you enter into almost a different time dimension where everything operates at a slower pace, almost like navigating in a parallel universe.

I truly believe that careproviders are Superheroes through and through. For anyone providing direct care to someone on a constant basis, they are giving the ultimate sacrifice and for sure the best versions of themselves. For parents of children with special needs who have done this their entire lives with no end in sight, I salute you, I honor you, I thank you, I am in awe of you, and you are sincerely and truly Heroes on this Earth.