Incight, Levé’s incredible nonprofit partner for 2014, receives all proceeds from this year’s Charity Ball on the 6th of December. Now that Charity Ball tickets are available for purchase,we wanted to continue our blog series about Incight’s programs and people. Check out our blog for past features on Incight. Most of Incight’s efforts center around the greater Portland area, but they have a second campus located in Palm Desert, California, the hometown of Incight co-founder Vail Horton. Incight Palm Desert “honors and promotes the same mission that Incight Portland does,” say Judy May, the regional director: they work “to unlock the potential of people with disabilities.” But the Coachella Valley has a very different demographic and set of challenges. A string of towns run through the valley, which is bordered on one side by the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains and on the other by the San Andreas fault. The valley’s communities are heavily touristed during the winter months, but have a permanent population whose needs are great and often go unmet.
“It’s a unique area because it’s a holiday destination,” Judy explains, “but for those who live here year-round, it’s economically impoverished. The eastern Valley is primarily Hispanic, with 90% or more on free school lunches. The families are very low-income: they’re so busy trying to put food on their tables, its hard for them to also get their disabled kid involved in their community. It’s also a very remote area: many services that LA or Portland can offer people with disabilities simply don’t exist here, which makes it more challenging to meet demand. And we also have a high number of senior citizens.”
Judy is the Palm Desert office’s only staff-person, and she definitely keeps busy. As with Portland’s Incight, she runs a scholarship program for college-bound students, a business program that works with local employers, and a general resource center for people with disabilities and their families. She has also launched the Coachella Valley Disabilities Collaborative to share resources and information between government, communities, and various nonprofits.
In the Desert, however, Incight’s priorities have had to shift based on need and resources. In Portland, Incight devotes much of its time to networking and workplace placement for people with disabilities, to educating employers about workplace equity, and to readying students with disabilities to live and study independently. It also runs adaptive sports programs. But for Incight Palm Desert, adaptive sports lead their programming. “We don’t have the industry or the educational capacity in the Desert right now” for her to focus extensively on employment and education, Judy says: there are too few jobs, too few universities, and much more endemic poverty.
Instead, their Joy in Mobility program is “dedicated to creating adaptive recreational sport activities,” Judy says. “We create events that engage people in ways that they’re not going to get engaged otherwise. Sports are our way of empowering people with disabilities in the same vein that Portland’s job placement, internships, and workforce training programs do. Putting people on a handcycle or a recumbent bike, or getting them up a climbing wall, opens their eyes to what they can do. What I’m promoting isn’t sports, as such: it’s health. We need to get people taking care of themselves so that they can experience health and longevity. But we also use sports and recreation to get them thinking about what they can do, including about their career and education options.”
She employs a get-em-when-they’re-young strategy, running adaptive sports program to empower kids with disabilities to have the confidence to take on other challenges. But young people aren’t her only focus. “There are a lot of gunshot victims and spinal cord injuries in the desert. These people don’t get out of their home; they have no networking potential. And we have a significant senior citizen population, too, a lot of whom are amputees, and many others who are housebound.”
Incight Palm Desert caters to all of these populations. They run a limb loss education day hosted by Paralympians and featuring swim classes. They also run paracycling clinics at physical rehab facilities, host adaptive rock climbing events and golf tournaments, draw over a hundred paracyclists into the Tour de Palm Springs, and run an annual disability sports festival that features 25-30 different sports taught by Paralympians and coaches with disabilities. Over 140 Valley residents participated in their sports festival this year, and Judy expects over 200 next year.
It’s not just about sports, Judy says. “So much of what we do down here is education. People with disabilities are the largest minority population in the world, and yet they’re underserved, under-engaged, and misunderstood. Our mission here isn’t ‘those poor disabled people,’ it’s about supporting opportunities and getting people to think about what’s possible for themselves.”