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VTC Enterprises: Making Lives A Little Brighter

Eleni at the store.

Before Eleni came to Vocational Training Center (VTC) Enterprises, she used to cry or run away within five minutes of walking into a store or movie theater. After an assessment by Stephanie Foster, PhD, OTR/L, Eleni was diagnosed as tactile defensive, which means that she is unusually sensitive to touch in ways that can make her feel uncomfortable or even in pain. To help Eleni become more at ease in various situations and, therefore, live a richer life, Dr. Foster prescribed specific training and activities for her through VTC’s new Sensory Integration Program (SIP). The program is designed to identify how sensitive a person is to each of the five senses and create an individualized program to help him or her become more comfortable with any feeling or reaction elicited by that sense. As a result of SIP, Eleni can now shop in a store for almost a half an hour and attend a movie screening for nearly an hour while enjoying a snack at the same time, making her just one of the many individuals in Santa Maria that VTC Enterprises has served since 1961.

“There is a strong disconnect in the perception of what individuals with disabilities can do and what they cannot do,” said Jason Tealander, Chief Executive Officer of VTC Enterprises. “VTC provides basic care, community access and learning opportunities for individuals who would not necessarily receive them otherwise.”

VTC Enterprises was founded in 1961 and incorporated in 1962 by a group of Santa Maria Valley parents who were involved with the Santa Maria Council for Disabled Children and wanted to ensure there would be services for their adult children with disabilities in their own community. Now, nearly 60 years later, VTC has grown into a number of programs that help each person with a disability become more independent and work toward his or her highest potential. For example, in addition to SIP, VTC is an AbilityOne service provider, holding direct federal contracts through SourceAmerica. This program allows individuals with disabilities to work jobs that would normally be minimum wage if they are non-federal, such as grounds maintenance or custodial services, to earn a higher wage due to the federal wage determination rule, which helps elevate the disabled out of poverty.

“In the workplace, individuals with disabilities are often treated as a separate group, with ‘disability only’ opportunities,” said Tealander. “Our federal contract program and other programs help expand employment opportunities for these individuals so that maybe one day, they will not be viewed as separate and the community will embrace the opportunity to employ them.”

Other opportunities that VTC offers include programs that address daily living and quality of life, and training programs for individuals with disabilities include training programs for individuals with disabilities to learn the skills to work in one of the organization’s micro-businesses. These include a restaurant (The ‘A’ Street Café), a printing and graphics organization (Innovative Printing Solutions) and two thrift stores (located in Lompoc and Santa Maria). VTC also provides services that assist individuals in preparing for, finding and retaining jobs in other local community businesses.

“For me, ‘success’ is when I ask individuals in the program what they did this weekend and they can answer the question and say they got out of the house,” said Tealander. “If they say they just watched TV or are still struggling with limitations that do not let them leave the house, it means they are still not able to be a member of the community and have important life experiences. So, if VTC can give just one person the opportunity to do something they could not before, then I would say we have been successful.”

In an effort to improve the quality of its programming, VTC received a recent Express Grant from the Santa Barbara Foundation to launch a cultural competency and diversity training for staff to increase their knowledge, improve outreach to community members and strengthen their ability to provide the best possible work and learning environment for every individual and employee.

“VTC Enterprises is committed to providing high quality services to meet the needs of clients and their families,” said Kathy Simas, North County Director of the Santa Barbara Foundation. “With support from this grant, they are providing training and professional development for their staff, which ensures quality service delivery to people with disabilities.

While this Express Grant was awarded in February, the Santa Barbara Foundation’s support of VTC began in earnest when the foundation partnered with the organization to help fiscally manage their endowment.

“The partnership with the Santa Barbara Foundation has enabled us to broaden donor support for our endowment and has taught us how to seek and procure a number of different types of gifts. We are fortunate to have this support in building a lasting legacy for our organization,” said Tealander. “Our relationship with the foundation is just fantastic.”

As VTC continues to support the endeavors of individuals with disabilities in Santa Maria and other areas in northern Santa Barbara County, Tealander hopes that one day, the organization will not need to exist because access and opportunity for these individuals will be fully integrated into the community. However, until then, VTC is there to support individuals, like Eleni, in their trips to the movies or runs to the store, and help make their lives a little bit brighter.
North County Headquarters:  (805) 346-6123  |   2625 S. Miller Street, Suite 101, Santa Maria, CA 93455
South County Headquarters:  (805) 963-1873  |  1111 Chapala Street, Suite 200, Santa Barbara, CA 93101