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Granting Success: Spotlight on Our Newest Awardees!


Welcome to the Foundation for Developmental Disabilities (FDD)! We are dedicated to advancing innovative programs that improve the lives of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DDs) across San Diego and Imperial Counties. Our program grants are specifically designed to support nonprofit organizations leading the way in developing new innovative methods to aid those with IDDs. For instance, one of our grantees has developed a unique therapy program that uses virtual reality to help individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) improve their social skills.


We are thrilled to announce that FDD's Board of Directors has recently approved just over $85,000 in program grant funding, a significant boost for eight worthy organizations throughout San Diego and Imperial County during this grant cycle. Thanks to your invaluable support, this funding will support essential areas such as employment, family support, and self-advocacy and make a tangible difference in the lives of individuals with IDDs.


We are deeply grateful for the transformative efforts happening in our community, made possible by the commitment and innovation of our nonprofit partners and, of course, the generous support of our donors and supporters. It is through your collective efforts that we are forging a more inclusive and supportive environment where individuals with I/DDs can flourish. Your support is not just financial, but also emotional and social, and it is this community spirit that truly makes a difference.


We invite you to celebrate with us as we highlight our latest program grantees. These organizations are implementing various incredible projects, all intended to significantly impact the lives of individuals with I/DDs and their families.

 

Established in 2008, Arms Wide Open (AWO) has evolved from a heartfelt initiative into a pivotal community resource, enriching the lives of over 200 individuals with special needs in San Diego County. As an official non-profit since 2010, AWO offers diverse programs, including musical theatre, dance, and drumming. These unique initiatives use the power of the arts to foster personal and social development, creating a nurturing environment that promotes participants' creative, social, physical, and mental growth.


AWO's impact transcends individual accomplishments by empowering participants to make meaningful contributions to the broader community, proving the vast benefits of inclusivity through the arts. The programs enhance motor skills and self-esteem while offering participants a platform to express themselves and connect with others, sharing their unique stories and perspectives. As AWO continues to expand, it encourages community support through volunteer work, donations, or event participation, furthering a movement that promotes inclusivity and the transformative influence of the arts. Notably, the upcoming funding from FDD will support performing arts classes, including staging two productions, one of which is "Shrek."



Ben Hulse Elementary is in the City of Imperial within Imperial County, California, part of the Imperial Unified School District. Positioned approximately 111 miles east of San Diego and 19 miles from the Mexican border, the district serves 4,296 students across grades TK-12, including one high school, one alternative high school, one middle school, and three elementary schools. Notably, 22% of the students are English learners, predominantly Spanish speakers. Economically, 50.2% of students are classified as low-income, and 5% are foster youth. The student body is primarily Hispanic at 86.6%, with 9.6% White, 1.0% African American, 0.7% Asian, and 1.5% from other racial backgrounds.


Funding from FDD will enhance Ben Hulse’s Circle of Friends program, an inclusive student mentoring initiative designed to foster self-advocacy, social-emotional growth, and a positive school environment for students with I/DDs. The support from FDD will provide essential resources such as snacks, games, and materials needed for the program’s activities, helping to ensure the program's continued success and its beneficial impact on the school community.

 


Best S.T.E.P. Forward (BSF) is a nonprofit organization deeply embedded in the Imperial Valley, dedicated to fostering an inclusive, neurodiverse environment where children with disabilities can thrive. Emphasizing Sports, Theatre, Expression, and Perseverance (S.T.E.P.), BSF provides a supportive backdrop for children to explore their potential through various activities that nurture physical and creative growth. Their events, ranging from sports to theatre, are designed to promote teamwork, resilience, and self-expression while celebrating each child's individuality and achievements.


BSF’s commitment to creating impactful experiences for children is supported by FDD program grant funding, which will enhance sports and recreational activities such as social outings, club nights, and workshops. This support will allow over 250 participants to engage in meaningful, enriching activities highlighting the importance of perseverance and personal development. At Best S.T.E.P. Forward, every child's effort is acknowledged, and their progress is celebrated, making it a vital resource in the community.

 


Community Interface Services, a nonprofit rooted in Carlsbad, California, is committed to enhancing the lives of children and adults with developmental disabilities—including intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, autism, and seizure disorders—throughout San Diego County and beyond. The organization champions a person-centered approach, asserting that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are uniquely qualified to make life decisions. This philosophy underpins their advocacy for autonomy and self-direction in accessing services.


The core mission of Community Interface Services is to empower these individuals to reach their highest levels of community participation and independence. The organization achieves this through various services, such as community living, vocational support, social support facilitation, housing, and respite services, all offered in natural, community-based settings. Additionally, the agency provides Financial Management Services to help participants manage their support based on personal preferences. Recently, FDD funding has been secured to expand their impact by adding three more Work Incentives Benefit Practitioners. These practitioners will offer specialized counseling on benefits and work incentives through the Social Security Administration, specifically aimed at the San Diego Regional Center's adult and transition-age youth clients, further supporting their journey toward independence and employment.

 


Outside the Lens is leading the charge in media literacy, equipping young people with the necessary skills and resources to thrive in the digital media landscape. This innovative organization introduces youth to photography, videography, and digital media fundamentals and actively involves them in their local communities and classrooms through dynamic, firsthand projects.


One of their key initiatives, the Media Makers program, caters explicitly to youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DDs), providing an expressive outlet and fostering their identity through media arts. Since its start in 2019, Media Makers has offered extensive training in digital media, filmmaking, and photography and practical career-building opportunities such as mentorships, paid internships, and professional shadowing. The program is more than educational—it's a vibrant community that supports ongoing creative and professional growth, inviting participants to remain engaged as lifelong Media Makers. With the help of FDD funding, the program is set to expand further by integrating a Virtual Reality module into its curriculum, enhancing its educational scope and the experiential learning opportunities it offers.


 

Celebrating its 24th year, the San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum (SDCDM) stands as a vibrant hub for educational enrichment, attracting over 100,000 visitors annually, including families, school groups, and children. The museum fosters an environment of social-emotional learning and STREAM (science, technology, reading, engineering, arts, and math), where children are encouraged to explore and understand the world through imaginative play and hands-on experimentation.


A cornerstone of the museum’s inclusive approach is its sensory-friendly programming,” Sensory Friendly Mornings.” Held every Sunday from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., these mornings are explicitly designed for families with children on the autism spectrum or those with sensory sensitivities. The museum adapts its environment to offer a quieter, more inclusive setting, allowing children and families to experience the museum’s exhibits and activities in a calm and welcoming atmosphere. With the support of FDD funding, the museum will further enhance these mornings by introducing new sensory exhibit elements like a sensory wall, walk, and interactive educational programming, ensuring that all children, regardless of their needs, have access to enriching learning opportunities.

 

 

The Foundation for Unified Esports is a non-profit organization dedicated to harnessing the power of technology and gaming to unite and empower individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DDs). By integrating team sports and gaming dynamics, Unified Esports enhances vital skills such as communication, collaboration, and critical thinking and opens doors to future opportunities in the gaming and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) sectors.


The program provides tailored curriculums that help participants set and achieve significant goals, from pursuing higher education and career pathways to developing life skills like driving. These curriculums are implemented in positive, structured gaming environments that promote individual achievement and team participation. Currently, Unified Esports offers consistent daily support to groups of 8-12 participants in Poway and 2-6 in a new El Cajon location, running year-round, with sessions available every day except holidays and with no attendance limits. With the support of funding from FDD, the program aims to expand its Gaming and Technology Program further, enhancing its reach and impact among the I/DD community.




Nestled within the picturesque but challenging terrain of the Imperial Valley, close to the Colorado River and the Mexican border, the Westmorland Community Food Pantry is a vital resource in the community. Positioned in the heart of Westmorland, a dedicated network of volunteers and partners fuel it, all committed to fighting food insecurity and supporting those most vulnerable, particularly individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DDs) and other underserved populations.


Despite its fertile soil and abundant harvests, the Imperial Valley faces severe economic disparities and widespread food insecurity. The Westmorland Community Food Pantry tackles these issues directly by providing essential resources and support to residents. This includes access to nutritious food and other critical services, which are particularly beneficial for those with I/DDs who may face added barriers to accessing adequate nutrition and support. With the help of funding from the Foundation for Developmental Disabilities (FDD), the pantry will now be able to provide financial compensation to their six volunteers with I/DDs, further integrating them into the workforce and acknowledging their valuable contributions to the community. This initiative enhances the pantry’s operations and reinforces its deep commitment to fostering an inclusive and supportive environment for all community members.

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