The nonprofit organizations AbilityFirst and FVO Solutions have finalized their merger with the goal of improving services for Los Angeles County residents with developmental disabilities, representatives announced last week.
The new organization maintains the AbilityFirst name, but now includes the job placement resources of FVO Solutions Inc., formerly known as Foothill Vocational Opportunities, AbilityFirst said in a written statement.
AbilityFirst CEO Lori Gangemi said the union represented a “major milestone” and came after “thoughtful discussion and due diligence.”
“There is an incredible opportunity to expand each of our exceptional services while ensuring that people with disabilities and their families have a wider access to a variety of programs that can help to transform their lives,” she said.
The expanded AbilityFirst aims to extend a variety of services to more than 2,000 area families affected by developmental disability, representatives said.
“Through our enhanced programs we offer people with developmental disabilities employment preparation, training, and experience needed to lead full productive lives as active members of our community,” according to Gangemi.
A cornerstone of FVO Solutions’ efforts has been its “enterprising manufacturing program,” in which the organization ran a facility along Fair Oaks Avenue that manufactures three-hole paper punches in partnership with the federal government, providing jobs and experience to workers with developmental disabilities.
“Now, with FVO Solutions under AbilityFirst, the organization provides its participants with wider access to FVO Solutions’ enterprising manufacturing program, which has been renamed to AbilityFirst Manufacturing Program,” the statement said.
Helping secure employment for clients is a top priority, Gangemi said.
“We want to get even more people working. We really feel that workplaces should be more inclusive of people with developmental disabilities and that that’ll just benefit the whole community at large,” she said.
While the merger was only recently completed, the two groups have been working together since May, according to Gangemi.
The boards of directors have been consolidated, with three members of the former FVO Solutions board brought onto the AbilityFirst Board of Directors, and two more named honorary board members, she added.
“We’ve seen a lot of new enthusiasm and new donors coming in, and that’s been really helpful for both the organizations,” Gangemi said. And then added expertise. They have people that had different types of expertise than we had., and we’ve just been able to really come together quite nicely. It makes so much sense, because we had a shared mission and we were literally a few miles apart from each other here in Pasadena.”
The need for services is growing, and the merging of the two organizations will better position outreach workers to make significant, positive impacts on peoples’ lives, according to a statement from AbilityFIrst.
“The merger comes at a time when the unemployment rate is at a historic high as a result of the global pandemic,” the statement said. “Nearly 80% of individuals with developmental disabilities are unemployed adding to the growing number of unemployed people in Los Angeles. The merger will help address this issue directly.”
“Together, AbilityFirst and FVO Solutions are better positioned to advocate for people with developmental disabilities in Los Angeles County and support efforts toward diversity, equity and inclusion,” the statement added. “The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging time for many companies and nonprofits, the merger of AbilityFirst and FVO Solutions allows the two organizations to consolidate operations, maximize operational efficiency by reducing duplicate expenses, and increase service to its participants by expanding programs.”
Gangemi lauded the staff for their tireless efforts throughout the pandemic.
“I am just so proud of our staff and the families that we work with for responding to this challenge. Our staff immediately came up with a wide variety of really engaging, meaningful remote programs that they’re doing, not only over zoom, but some of them are over just a basic phone call or FaceTime,” she said.
“We’re meeting people where they are with the technology that they have, and some of it is letter writing,” Gangemi added. “We had drive-bys where they could come through to our center parking lot and pick up the supplies that they might need.”
The new organization will remain based on AbilityFirst existing headquarters on Green Street.
More information about AbilityFirst is available on the organization’s website at abilityfirst.org.