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Partner Highlight: Fred Finch Youth & Family Services Breaks Barriers with Innovative Pilot Program

Many individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs) face significant barriers when seeking meaningful, quality support services. Organizations such as Fred Finch Youth & Family Services work tirelessly to tackle those barriers head-on.

Fred Finch is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides comprehensive care to children, youth, young adults, and their families. The organization's mission is to partner with communities in providing culturally responsive services that cultivate mental and physical resiliency and wellness.

In the summer of 2022, Fred Finch C.A.R.E.S. (Center for Autism Research Evaluation and Service) launched the Behavior Education and Skills Training (BEST) High School Pilot Program. Thanks to a generous $14,400 grant from the Foundation for Developmental Disabilities (FDD), the BEST program provided training in Applied Behavior Analysis, Trauma-Informed Care, and Mental Health to eight Southwest High School (SHS) students in Imperial County. This program aimed to prepare them for careers in the mental and behavioral health fields through experiential learning and on-the-job training opportunities.

According to Jackie Valadez, one of the career technical education teachers,

"They really enjoyed the opportunity to participate in the job shadowing portion of the program because they were able to see firsthand what the job entails and how to conduct themselves while performing those duties. They can carry that experience with them throughout their careers or use it as a stepping stone to further grow in behavioral health or health science."

Moreover, the program had a tremendous positive impact on the lives of the high school seniors, leading to meaningful employment opportunities with Fred Finch. The program helped the students gain confidence, address the stigma surrounding mental health issues, and encourage them to give back to their communities.

The funding provided by the Foundation for Developmental Disabilities enabled Fred Finch C.A.R.E.S. to motivate and educate younger generations about the fulfilling career opportunities available to them in mental and behavioral health, which they may have otherwise never considered. The BEST High School Pilot Program was a resounding success in creating a pipeline from training to employment, demonstrating the importance of providing early career coaching and mentorship. Fred Finch hopes this program can serve as a model for other organizations looking to address the shortage of mental health workers.

Reflecting on his experience in the program, Kalev Ceballos, an SHS graduate, shared his perspective, saying,

"I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to participate in the BEST Pilot Program. It opened my eyes to the immense potential within each individual and showed me how we can make a real difference in their lives. Through this program, I gained valuable skills and insights that have shaped my passion for behavioral health. It has inspired me to pursue a career where I can continue helping others and create a positive impact on their well-being. I am proud to have been part of this transformative experience.”

Recognizing the success of the BEST Pilot Program, FDD's Program Committee awarded Fred Finch another grant of $14,000, including the organization once again in our cohort of innovative nonprofits working to create opportunities for individuals with IDDs.

To learn more about Fred Finch, visit their website at

Are you a nonprofit organization based in San Diego and Imperial County and seeking funding for a program? Visit to learn more about our program grant opportunities.

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