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New vehicle brings life-changing adventures to disabled Santa Barbara residents

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – For those who live at Hillside, it’s not easy getting around.

"It was quite tough to get our residents out … you know COVID highly impacted us. The programs were shut down, so our residents were at home 24 hours a day," said Quinn McCormick, program director of Hillside House.

The Santa Barbara residential facility is currently home to 59 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

"That could be down syndrome, cerebral palsy as well as underlying medical issues such as seizures … various trauma. We do serve as their forever home. They live here permanently once they come in," said Michael Rassler, president and CEO of Hillside.

Many of its residents have special medical needs making it difficult for families to provide adequate care at home.

And Hillside faces obstacles when caring for the residents.

“One of the main challenges … transportation … it has always been an issue being able to help our residents get out into the community and integrate with the broader Santa Barbara community,” said Rassler.

Until now, the facility was limited in helping wheelchair-bound residents get around.

“Our current fleet of vans can only transport about one resident at a time to their medical appointments or day programs, or things like that … they have to wait for medical appointments because of how long it takes for them to go there,” said McCormick.

That's changing.

Thanks to a $100,000 grant from the Womens Fund, Hillside now has a brand-new customized van that can accommodate several wheelchairs.

Nancy is a Hillside resident who now gets more time out and about, thanks to the donated van.

“They have really suffered from isolation. It is so hard to get them out with only being able to transport one resident in a wheelchair at a time … but now … we get to transport four with their aides a time which means … we can have group outings, and they can participate in the community … like you and I do," said Cheryl Sweeney, chief development officer of Hillside.

The Hillside team plans to use the new van on a daily basis.

“God forbid there’s a fire or a disaster … we can evacuate more efficiently … and it’s going to help the broader community … because they will be exposed to our residents … and that exposure provides for understanding it provides for a different perception," said Rassler.

It will now be easier for residents to attend appointments, run personal errands, and take part in adult day programs together.

But that’s not all. Recently, they took the shiny new van for a spin to Old Spanish Days Fiesta.

“They love to dress up they love the music and excitement, and just being around all the people," said Sweeney.

Living far below the poverty line, Hillside residents rely on medical reimbursements, which could not be used to buy a van.

The vehicle will ultimately reduce dependence on outside transportation services.

“My hope is that this is going to drastically improve our residents lives, and abilities to get out and enjoy the simple pleasures in life," said McCormick.

And residents like Nancy have big plans.

When asked where would Nancy like to go she replied, “to Disneyland.”

Article Topic Follows: Be Mindful
Be Mindful
Santa Barbara

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Patricia Martellotti

Patricia Martellotti is a reporter for News Channel 3-12. To learn more about Patricia, click here.


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