SDC was once a friendly, inviting place
In 2002, I became an on-again, off-again contributor to the Index-Tribune and was given the Sonoma Developmental Center as my “feature beat.” I contacted the SDC administration and was promptly given a tour and a long list of stories that readers might enjoy. In those days, the staff wanted to open the center to public scrutiny, to allow people to learn about the services provided and the programs that were making a difference in the lives of their clients.
Some of those stories were heart-warming. Others weren’t easy to tell. All of them gave me new insights into, and an appreciation for, the work the staff was performing on a daily basis.
I wrote about the shoe factory, where specialized footwear was manufactured on site for clients with special needs. I visited the farm where clients – and the public – could picnic while viewing the animals. I learned about a program that brought people out of wheelchairs into a standing position, giving them greater mobility and self-esteem. The device was a forerunner of the Segway. And I interviewed participants in the grandparents program, attended social activities, and went through an orientation with college students who had come to learn about people with disabilities and were to spend the weekend interacting with them. Administrators were open, friendly and eager to have their programs featured, to remove any air of mystery that might be associated with people who look and act differently, but are just people like the rest of us.
In that year, when I considered myself part of the SDC family, there were occasional stories that became news and were told by others. But never did reporters hit a stone wall when asking for information. There are still stories to be told – the training being given to those who are able to enter the workforce; the history of the buildings that are a myriad of architectural styles; the self-sufficient utility systems that served the campus. But sadly, the current administration has cloaked the facility once again in secrecy. And positive stories yet to be told may forever be hidden.
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Pam Gibson is a veteran reporter, a regular contributor to the Index-Tribune and a former city manager. She lives in Sonoma.