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Pasadena nonprofits AbilityFirst and FVO Solutions finalize their merger to create stronger, more efficient programs

Published on Wednesday, August 18, 2021 | 2:05 pm
AbilityFirst Fair Oaks exterior signage. (Courtesy photo)

Two of Pasadena’s most important nonprofits—AbilityFirst and FVO Solutions—have merged. But beyond that headline are stories of hope for thousands of people with disabilities and otherwise challenged children and adults whose lives have been bettered by the work of these two groups, over more than ten decades, combined.

Clients like Emily A., an AbilityFirst “College to Career” client, who was struggling in her child development courses at Pasadena City College, and deathly afraid to speak up in her classes.

“Meeting new people was difficult. I was kind of scared talking to people I didn’t know,” Emily recalled recently.

Emily A., AbilityFirst College to Career participant. (Courtesy photo)

The COVID-19 pandemic suddenly dropped her in front of a computer monitor and Zoom classes with no choice but to talk — and with the help of her educational coach, she not only eventually succeeded, but thrived.

She is one of a thousand stories.

As AbilityFirst CEO Lori Gangemi explained to Pasadena Now, their “person-centered” programs for individuals with autism, cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome and other intellectual and developmental disabilities are “grounded in individual choice, autonomy and community participation.”

“We empower them to discover what is important to them in their lives and develop the skills that are important for them to achieve their goals,” Gangemi explained.

Javier Rodriguez, who participated in the FVO Solutions manufacturing program and has now transitioned to AbilityFirst. (Courtesy photo)

The non-profit also manages three expanded programs, ExploreAbility, PossAbility, and DiscoverAbility.

ExploreAbility is a licensed adult day and community integration program to help adults explore and identify life goals, to develop the skills necessary to achieve them, and to be involved in their communities through volunteering and community activities.

The program is designed to help individuals access their communities in their daily lives, work, recreational and leisure activities, incorporating volunteering, community activities, independent living and skill-building, using a small group model. ExploreAbility is currently offered at the AbilityFirst Lawrence L. Frank Center in Pasadena.

PossAbility is intended for adults who want to enhance skills and independence, as well as participate in their communities. According to the information provided by AbilityFirst, individuals in the program are “empowered to set and pursue personal goals with an emphasis on employment readiness and increased community connections, including volunteering”

DiscoverAbility is a program that allows participants to complete in-depth assessments and career exploration by trying out new work experiences and volunteer opportunities on their journey to becoming employed.

There is also accessible camping, with a full range of traditional summer camp activities and personalized support, something few challenged or disabled clients would be able to undertake on their own.

Add to that a warm water aquatics program, with water safety and swim lessons for after-school and adult program participants, and year-round water and swim programs for community residents, at three locations.

AbilityFirst also operates two group homes, housing adults and seniors with disabilities in Pasadena.

It’s a laundry list of programs and opportunities for AbilityFirst’s clients, which also includes after school enrichment; interest-based adult life skills development and community integration opportunities. But within those dry program titles are humans succeeding every day in common activities that might otherwise be simply overwhelming, given their physical and emotional challenges.

And why join forces?

“There is an incredible opportunity to expand each of our exceptional services,” said AbilityFirst CEO Lori Gangemi, “while ensuring that people with disabilities and their families have wider access to a variety of programs that can help to transform their lives.”

Gangemi also explained, “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.

“Together,” she added, “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.”

With the merger, AibilityFirst has also acquired the FVO Solutions building, which houses its manufacturing program as well as the Pasadena-based Supported Employment and PossAbility programs.

AbilityFirst also manages six community centers across Southern California, two residential homes in Pasadena and a fully-accessible camp in the San Bernardino Forest, called Camp Paivika. With more than 250 staff members, the program serves more than 2,000 individuals and their families, annually.

The combined organization will be led by AbilityFirst CEO Lori Gangemi, and remain headquartered on Green Street in Pasadena.

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