I sometimes have to count my blessings when I write about things around town.
I’m counting two blessings this week — one is that there is an Institute for the Redesign of Learning based in South Pasadena, which will be celebrating its 50th anniversary next year.
And I’m grateful that there are people who can learn there and possibly get jobs with the help of teachers, mentors and institute employees who help them learn basic life skills and sometimes give them a boost into a job.
“We love our job. We love seeing how far they become independent,” said Karissa Tressa, program director for the adult transition program at the institute. “We love seeing how far they can become independent. We celebrate when they start looking for a job, or get any kind of job.”
This column started with a news release about the South Pasadena Public Library’s partnering with the institute’s adult transition program to help students learn about different cultures and foods and to provide activities which would reinforce those lessons.
The library program attracted 50 people who came to the library once a month.
The program is currently on hiatus until the start of the year when it will be open to the general public.
That initiative led me to Tressa, who is director for transition and adult services at the institute, located at 99 Pasadena Ave., in South Pasadena.
The institute is a multi-faceted gem, which shines its light on two schools: Almansor Academy — a nonpublic special education day school for individuals who struggle with learning or emotional challenges — and Westmoreland Academy, for students with autism spectrum disorders.
Jenny Needham’s daughter Lark, now 28, has been a student at the Institute for the Redesign of Learning for almost 10 years, and she can measure her daughter’s success by the way she now can function well when most people speak to her.
Lark Needham attends the adult transition program. The program helps provide independent living skills and even coach clients on making doctor appointments or applying for social security cards. Students at the program, in addition to going to sessions at the library, can take advantage of trips to museums and visiting places in Los Angeles where they can learn about various cultures.
The day program serves clients with intellectual disabilities, Down syndrome and autism.
“These programs bring out the best for their clients,” said Jenny Needham, who said her daughter has autism.
“If the programs were not available, these wonderful kids would most likely be home watching TV and not participating in life activities — missing out.”
Lark didn’t hesitate to say “hi” right away when I talked to her and her mother by phone. Her voice always seemed to reflect a smile. Maybe she couldn’t provide the full paragraphs this columnist needed, but mom was also on the call to provide more details.
“They’ve encouraged her to get out of her shell,” said Needham, who lives in Monrovia. “They’ve worked with her on cooking and baking, computer work and she’s even taken a videography class.
“Most of all it’s given her a sense of self-pride.”
Jenny Needham said that the getting Lark interested in a job is one of the family’s goals.
Tressa is in charge of the programs that Lark currently attends and she and her associates will be there if Lark does decide to pursue a job. The supported employment program serves clients with all disabilities, including physical disabilities; mental health, substance abuse; autism, and intellectual disabilities.
They are constantly on the lookout for businesses who want to hire their clients for either internships, part-time or full-time positions. Tressa estimated that job developers spend five to 10 hours a week networking with different businesses to establish a relationship with them.
Nearly 110 clients were placed in jobs during the 2022-23 fiscal year all over the San Gabriel Valley, Tressa said, and worked with 583 clients among all the programs she directs.
Tressa said that in the past five fiscal years, her program has placed a total of 399 clients into some sort of job.
And, to help make this option more attractive to small businesses, the institute will even pay client’s salaries for part-time or fulltime work for a limited amount of time.
“We’re always looking to have clients who will gain experience,” Tressa said. “We’ve partnered with a lot of companies including Grocery Outlet and Pavilions in South Pasadena.”
The institute staff works with clients in preparing a resume and getting ready for an interview. The staff also provides job coaching.
So, if you know anyone looking for a blessing, heed Jenny Needham’s words about the Institute for the Redesign of Learning, and in her case, the adult transition program.
“As a parent, you want your disabled child to have the same fulfillment in life as typical kids do,” Jenny Needham said. “For our children, we understand they have limitations, but that does not mean they cannot have a full life.”
Tressa remembered one instance when one of the job developers told her client, Alex, that he had been hired permanently as a janitor at the institute’s early education site.
“He was very excited and couldn’t believe he had been chosen,” Tressa said. “Whenever our clients get hired permanently, we celebrate with them because we’ve been working with a lot of our clients for about a year.”
Editor’s Note: Information on the institute can be found on its website at redesignlearning.org. Businesses interested in partnering for jobs can email Tressa at email@example.com.
First published in the November 3 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.