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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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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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