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Inspiring Conversations with Matthew Swearman

Today we’d like to introduce you to Matthew Swearman. Them and their team share their story with us below:

In 1971, a group of concerned parents established a nonprofit to care for their children with developmental and intellectual challenges in an uncertain future. At that time, agencies like Valley Village did not exist. Many healthcare professionals didn’t know how to care for people with developmental challenges, and they often recommended institutions. As parents, they constantly worried about what would happen to their adult children when they could no longer care for them. Like any parents who want to provide for their children, these families wanted to plan for their lifelong care. They envisioned a village on a single site, but the experts wouldn’t endorse that approach because it didn’t involve the residents enough in the broader community. They planned a community-based approach, and in 1976, their dream came true. The nonprofit opened its first home for adults with developmental disabilities. The residence in Sylmar housed six young women. The home was named Valley Village. The parents involved in the project rolled up their sleeves and worked hard to make the house a home for their children. They had to shovel out debris from the building that they spruced up and furnished. They did everything from making the curtains and bedspreads to applying for grant support. Together, they prepared the home and made it ready for inspection and approval to open.

Since the opening of Valley Village House in 1976, the organization’s scope of service and size grew dramatically over 50 years. Valley Village’s afterschool program and first Adult Development Center (ADC) opened in the late ’80s. By the early ’90s, Valley Village owned and operated 14 family-style homes throughout the San Fernando Valley. In 1993, Valley Village opened a semi-independent living program, and in 1994, the organization opened a 12-bed nursing facility for people with developmental disabilities who need additional medical care. In the early 2000s, Valley Village House, a continuous-care nursing home, opened to care for medically fragile clients. At the same time, the Sunland ADC and Adult Day Health Center (ADHC) opened. In 2013, Valley Village opened its newest nursing home to care for medically fragile individuals from state developmental centers.

Valley Village has been a community leader in the San Fernando Valley for 50 years, providing programs and services that help adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities live independently as possible. Every day, we work to achieve our mission to protect, foster, develop, and advance the rights and interests of people with developmental disabilities. Fifty years after its founding, Valley Village serves 400 women and men with developmental and intellectual challenges such as autism, Down syndrome, seizure disorders, cerebral palsy, and many significant developmental challenges. We are excited to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of our founding.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Valley Village, its founders, and its staff throughout its 50-years history faced many challenges and obstacles. Before 1970, no public-school services existed for children with developmental and intellectual challenges. Valley Village’s founding families organized in June 1970. The group engaged with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and informed the district of their children’s educational needs. The group worked closely with LAUSD, leading to three school openings in the San Fernando Valley between September 1970 and September 1971. The parent group became an official nonprofit organization in 1971.

Creating an organization like Valley Village was uncharted territory. They learned about grants, foundations, licensing requirements, building and fire codes, Department of Rehabilitation, insurance, city, county, and state requirements, and more. At that time, a deinstitutionalization movement was sweeping the country. Parents had few long-term residential options for their children beyond institutions.

The group wanted better lifelong opportunities for their children beyond their education, and the parents who founded Valley Village were not settling for the status quo. They wanted their children to live in a community where they would lead healthy, active lives. They advocated for the passage of The Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Services Act, which is codified in the California Welfare and Institutions Code. They developed community-based, family-style housing for their children who were graduating from LAUSD schools. They rehabilitated and opened homes and hired staff to care for their children.

Valley Village experienced funding challenges in 2008 during the economic crisis caused by the housing market crash. The California Legislature cut funding for programs like Valley Village. The organization formed a coalition – the LA Coalition – of similar organizations to identify cost-saving mechanisms to survive state budget cuts to programs for people with developmental disabilities. Over time, the LA Coalition evolved into an advocacy group led by the executive directors of each respective member organization. Today, the LA Coalition actively advocates for better policies and funding that support the rights and interests of people with developmental and intellectual challenges.

As you know, we’re big fans of Valley Village. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about the brand?
Valley Village is a nonprofit organization in the San Fernando Valley that provides a continuum of care for adults with developmental and intellectual challenges. Through a partnership of families, professional staff, and community leaders, Valley Village operates community-based residential and day programs.

Valley Village and its dedicated staff of 300 employees serve 400 women and men with developmental and intellectual challenges through its three, day programs and 18 group homes. Valley Village’s day programs include an Adult Development Center (ADC), an Adult Day Health Center (ADHC) in Winnetka, and a Sunland Program offering ADC and ADHC services. The residential program includes semi-independent living condominiums, fifteen Intermediate Care Group Homes, and three residential nursing programs, two of which provide continuous nursing care.

We believe in family involvement, community participation, innovative programs, professional and caring staff, dignity, respect, fairness, high-quality care in a stable environment, lifelong care, integrity, kindness, compassion, the longevity of our founder’s vision, and being at the forefront of dynamic programming for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

What matters most to you? Why?
High-quality, lifelong care with dignity and respect for people with developmental and intellectual challenges matters most to us. All of our clients deserve the opportunities to optimize their potential and maximize their capabilities.

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