It’s a labor of love that was born out of necessity. In 2011, the state was cutting funding across the board and Santa Clara Unified School District (SCUSD) was strapped for cash. The district was making tough choices and the Independence Network, an adult education program that works with adults over the age of 21 who have developmental or learning disabilities, was about to be cut. Then, Friends of Independence Network Students — better known as FINS — stepped in.
“A group of parents who were still very involved in their kids’ lives, including myself, started going to School Board meetings, getting information,” said Joan Forte, President of the FINS Board of Directors. “We decided that we would organize and try to prevent this because of the importance of [the Independence Network] in the community and in our children’s and families’ lives.”
FINS helped save the Independence Network from budget cuts in 2011 and has worked with SCUSD ever since to keep the program alive. The state provides about 80 percent of the annual funding for the program. FINS and SCUSD work together to make up the difference.
“We have this co-commitment with the district that as long as we’re willing to work and try to pull some of the funding that they will also provide some funding,” said Forte. “It’s been really fun because some of the folks on the School Board have been there through this whole process.”
The teachers appreciate the commitment as well.
“FINS is a great organization that helps our program and just supplements the things that we need,” said Yvonne Jasso, a teacher at Independence Network who worked with the agency during the statewide budget cuts. “It was created out of need by very caring parents and they continue to march forward and champion for the cause.”
Unlike many adult programs for people living with disabilities, Independence Network places an emphasis on learning the everyday tasks that many adults take for granted. The students learn to make shopping lists and cook for themselves. Some, even have part-time jobs in the community.
Forte has personally seen the success a program like this can provide. Her daughter, who was living at home prior to joining the Independence Network, now lives on her own with the help of a caregiver.
“Like any adult, these adults continue to learn. There isn’t a magic period where even developmentally delayed people stop learning,” said Forte. “This is a program that continues to provide intellectual and educational challenge for [the students] and they continue to grow in their skills and abilities to be independent…This setting, this school, provides an opportunity for people who would otherwise not be able to contribute to the community and be an active part of our community to participate as full citizens.”
Forte says the community benefits as well.
“It’s just a wonderful way for young children and people in the community to learn about people who are different and to appreciate and value those people,” said Forte. “I think that exposure benefits learning for everyone.”
While FINS is always in need of funding, Forte says the group is looking for something even more valuable this year.
“One of our goals this year is to bring in some community folks onto the board and to attract some younger folks and some folks that have some professional skill base,” said Forte. “We’d be absolutely interested in obviously donations, but also in people who have some sort of contribution to a board would be great.”
To find out more about FINS and the Independence Network, visit fins-ca.org.