Las Trampas to expand program for adults with developmental disabilities
By Lou Fancher
Down a quiet lane in Lafayette, a baton is being passed in a race being run just prior to a tsunami.
The "baton" is a $7.6 million capital campaign about to launch at Las Trampas, a nonprofit center that provides educational day programs and residential services to adults 22 and older with developmental disabilities like autism, cerebral palsy and similar conditions. The team members are outgoing development director Kathy Merchant and her successor, Victoria Gallagher.
The anticipated tsunami is the wave of clients -- adults with disabilities who've aged out of the under-21 care system -- who will require services in the years to come, as well as the family members and caregivers in need of respite and renewal.
"We take the most vulnerable of people with disabilities. I look everyday at our clients who arrive in vans or are dropped off by families. If it weren't for our programs, where else would they go?" asks Merchant.
Many social service support systems place restrictions on the level of disability they will accept or are allowed to support only mildly disabled people. But even at Las Trampas, where moderately to profoundly challenged individuals participate in the educational and work-related activities, there are limits.
"Primarily, the new building will allow us to take more clients," says Gallagher. "There are only a few California institutions left because the philosophy is now that people with disabilities should be living in communities."
Gallagher, 31, lives in Oakland and is a graduate of Saint Mary's College. She comes to Las Trampas from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Prior to her arrival at that nonprofit in 2012, the annual Light the Night Walk garnered approximately $195,000. During her first year, the event raised $300,000.
"By my fourth year, we raised $425,000. I'm looking forward to getting more sponsorships for Las Trampas and "Walk n' Roll" on Sept. 24 -- and continuing the success of our "What's in Our Hat?" each spring," she says. "I want Las Trampas to become 'the' nonprofit of Lafayette."
The Las Trampas day program currently has a maximum of 70 clients, determined by the facility's size. The two-story building designed by architects Tom Chastain and Renee Chow of Studio Urbis that will replace the current 1968, pre-ADA classrooms that Merchant says are woefully out-of-date will bump that number to 120, nearly 50 percent more.
Updated features include hallways wide enough to allow two wheelchairs to pass, a multipurpose room that will accommodate the music, dance and art therapies that science is proving have significant impact on the well-being of people with disabilities, and more use of natural light throughout the building -- flickering florescent lights can disturb some people with autism.
Outdoors, improved landscaping for the grounds and garden in which clients grow their own food, and better parking as well as drop-off and pickup design will maximize the property.
"Traffic flow will be easier and quieter because there'll be a loop so our vans won't have to come in and then back out in reverse, beeping," says Gallagher.
Two neighborhood meetings have been held, and Merchant says another will follow a traffic mitigation study they are conducting.
"We don't want our neighbors to have any surprises," she says.
The advisory committee overseeing the campaign includes, among others, financial adviser Eric Rudney, philanthropist Sharon Simpson and Merchant, who have worked on capital campaigns, including the Chabot Space & Science Museum, Cal Shakes, and the Lafayette Library and Learning Center, respectively.
At the community meeting June 30, nearby residents were understandably concerned about increased traffic and sight line preservation.
"One neighbor was unhappy that they might lose their second-story view of trees," says Merchant. "As we told them about the sight line we've opened up over the first floor, they seemed happier."
Letters of support have also arrived, including one from Stephanie Mahon, who moved to Lana Lane when it was known as Railroad Avenue in 1967.
"The single-lane road was mostly dirt, blocked in by a wall of poison ivy, blackberry vines and ivy. The clients lived in a two-story house and picker's shacks," Mahon writes, about the then-residential day school that was Las Trampas' first incarnation.
She goes on to write that improvements have led to "the extraordinary care and well-being of the clients today" and urges people to "keep progress in mind" when inevitable concerns about construction are discussed.