To Be a Mountain Mover

A Mountain Mover
By Sharon Lea

I want to be a mountain mover
mountains hold people back
create walls of sadness
that hide so much truth and beauty

I want to push and kick away boulders
so, beautiful ballerinas can twirl
with grace and dignity
wings without fear

I want to be a mountain mover
crushing boulders blocking the path
that keep spirits from being free

I want to bring a kaleidoscope of hope
to budding young artists
who draw of pretty cats and fishes
rainbows and raindrops
giving voice to their hearts
wings without fear

I want to be a mountain mover
building bridges to eliminate the barriers
that keep people from their potential
to be leaders in our communities
who have so much to say and do
if only given the chance
to dunk basketballs like a pro
or help a teammate to walk
wings without fear

I want to be a mountain mover
mountains hold people back
in shyness and uncertainty
giving strength and courage
to beautiful hearts and awesome minds
who speak with confidence
raising their voices with pride
sharing love and kindness
wings without fear

The Ripple Effect

When I’m out in the community and I tell people we run a College of the Arts for adults with special needs, a common response that I get is, “So you are training them for a vocation in the arts?” Certainly a valid question, and I find it an interesting challenge to convey the message that we are truly about learning for the sake of learning. Lifelong education. Exploring and furthering your skills and interests with other like-minded peers who have similar interests.

I have a sister with a disability, and it was truly interesting to watch enter into the world of adulthood. When I believe she was in that post-secondary time right after high school, she had a job coach for the summer, and she was so very happy cleaning the desks of the local high schools to get ready for the next year. Her coach was with her, and she seemed to be having a blast. I was so happy for her to have an engaged experience and to be helping in the community.

I soon learned that the job coach was cut due to budget cuts. I moved away to attend my own college, and I sensed the distress and despair of becoming an adult without the needed supports to continue to be a viable, happy, and productive citizen. It’s been highly distressing to observe as a sister.

Fast forward 20 years and myself and my business partner, Pamela Lindsay, have founded an Innovative College of the Arts for Students with Disabilities. It’s amazing; joyful; refreshing. I simply and truly love it. College of Adaptive Arts has 8 Schools of Instruction in the Arts, Health & Wellness. Adults simply sign up for the classes that they are interested in taking. Each class is one hour long. Learn, Create, Rinse, and Repeat.

I often revisit the word training in my mind. I’ve seen adults with disabilities trained to pick up trash, clean tables, shred papers. From my perspective, it seems that ‘typical folks’ on a whole can do these jobs better than a person with a disability. However, when you give a person with a disability a microphone and a stage, they have the ability to transform the audience’s experience in a way that I have rarely witnessed with ‘typical’ performers. People often have told me that they ‘feel more alive’ after watching a College of Adaptive Arts performing troupe.

I sincerely believe that we are better using all human resources when we unleash authentic abilities in the arts vs. training them to fulfill menial jobs. A typical person experiences an adult with a disability on stage singing their heart out, and their world that day has been transformed.

A ripple from experiencing the artistic contributions of a performer with a disability may lead to more far-reaching ramifications. A person goes home and hugs their family. They put down their technologies and authentically listen. They get a new sense of hope and inspiration. They have a renewed sense of awareness, perspective, gratitude, mindset. The sky is truly the limit.

I invite you to come and visit the College of Adaptive Arts on a Friday tour and feel the positive energy for yourself. It’s infectious; joyful; electrifying. It’s much easier to get it than having me politely explain that we are not about training; we are about empowering our student body to creatively transform perception. And they are so doing that each time they connect with the community – it is truly powerful.

Ask for Help Once in a While

When my daughter came into our lives, we were overjoyed. She was perfect!

Slowly, we realized she was lagging in the development milestones.

So our (2nd) pediatrian showed us the ‘obvious’ signs of her development delays.

We needed help for her – but we weren’t sure what to ask for, or even who to ask.

Fast forward to today, and I find myself sitting in the entryway or in the Library at CAA surrounding by experts with personal experience, and I still don’t know how ask for help.

Well, today my personal shyness ends!

I’m going to start asking Parents, Caregivers and Students for their advice. I know people are willing to tell their stories when they see the listener is really interested in their experience.

CAA is the perfect setting to share tips, advice and resources. While my daughter is learning new skills, I hope you will help me learn from your experience. When I approach you for advice, please share your knowledge with me.

Mary Pizzo
San Jose, CA 95125
408/425-6455 (mobile)

Celebrate Differences

Celebrate Differences by Sharon Lea, CAA Professor

Just imagine a world where everyone is held up high towards the sun and given all the opportunities to be the best they can be. Just imagine a world where everyone is celebrated for who they are and given every advantage to live a rich, fulfilling life. Imagine a world where differences are celebrated with excitement and wonder. Everyday CAA gives this warmth of the sun to adult students with differing abilities, through a liberal arts education and exciting opportunities they might not have had in the past.

My first experience with CAA came when I walked into rehearsal at Pioneer High School for the production of Greasy Hairspray. CAA puts on yearly productions, giving students opportunities to perform in the community and in turn, gives the community opportunities to see our students work together as a team and thrive in the spotlight.

I had not worked with this population before and I must admit I wasn’t sure exactly what would be expected of me. As soon as I walked in the door, I knew I found a unique and special place. Adult students were on stage, of all abilities. Excitement was in the air. Bright yellow Greasy Hairspray tee shirts were being sorted by size for each student. Singing and dancing filled the space. It was not a place of apprehension, but a place filled with support and love.

It was a place where there were no limits and each student had a gift that simply needed sunshine and a little time. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced and I knew I wanted to help in whatever way possible. Now as a staff member, I am wholly committed to doing all I can to promote and support CAA, an amazing organization.

As I watch students blossom, become more confident, take risks and continually strive to learn about the world and themselves, I celebrate differences more than ever. I celebrate CAA with all my heart and I am excited to watch CAA touch more and more students, giving hope through higher-education.

Jen Pleimann Mulry, CAA Mountain Mover, 2010 – 2017

It is with many mixed emotions that I finish up my time on CAA’s board as well as my role as board chair. I am proud to end my term (plus some) with a strong board of ten mighty members who I know will continue plowing through the mountain; with DeAnna and Pam energetically paving the path as they strive to get our students on a college campus; with a staff who is committed to teaching without limits; and with a growing student population who continue to surpass everyone’s expectations and continue to be our best advocates for their own future.

There is so much energy, so much potential and in my opinion so many amazing things that are “about to happen” at CAA but as we look ahead to each new goal, it often feels like the mountain just got bigger. We continue to expect more (as we should); Parents continue to demand more (as you should); and the Board continues to govern and steer more and more growth (as they should). But as we continue to look to the future, it is just as important to understand just how far we have come and with that I would like to share my top five highlights from my time thus far:

2009 – The moment I first heard about CAA when Jeremy Teter ran into my FITBuddies class and announced with so much pride “I’m going to college Jen!!” There were 9 students attending CAA classes and today there are 90+.

2011 – I taught my first skype nutrition class and will never forget Angel, DeAnna’s sister joining us from Indiana, ”Oh miss Jen you are the highlight of my week,” No Angel, you are the highlight of mine. Today our distance learning infrastructure is growing tremendously with the help of Cisco’s grant enabling students to join classes from anywhere.

2013 – I was nominated as Board Chair with an operating budget of $50k…and we thought that was a huge step forward. This year we approved a budget of $750k.

2014 – We were “homeless” and running classes out of three different locations until one of our students marched into the Swenson’s team office and told them we needed a home. I have no doubt that one of our students will march onto a college campus and demand that they give CAA space to run classes.

2015 – DeAnna started working a second job and Pam continued towards her PHD. How these two women continued to run the college on little to no salary while maintaining additional jobs and commitments was and continues to be humbling. Today these two continue to run the college on a very base salary with so much love, commitment and dedication. To say they are awe-inspiring does little justice.

I am forever grateful for the time I was able to serve CAA and this is not the end but only the beginning of ways in which I will be involved. I can not thank De, Pam, all the professors and fellow board members enough for your energy and commitment to CAA. I continue to be truly humbled by all of you. And to the students, I thank you for teaching me WAY more than I could ever teach you.

Jen Pleimann Mulry, CAA Mountain Mover, 2010 – 2017; Board Chair, 2013 – 2017