Able Arts

Music therapist Maria, on the laptop, and student Emilio engaging with her during a Zoom class called Music and Movement.

Able ARTS Work primarily serves adults with developmental disabilities — people used to one-on-one learning experiences who value social interaction more than many.

So when the stay at home order was issued as part of the response to the coronavirus pandemic, it was traumatic for her clients, founder and CEO Helen Dolas said.

"It was like a cliff drop," Dolas said. "All of a sudden, they had no services. They were home, with no place to go, nothing really to do."

Dolas, who founded Arts & Services for Disabled, Inc. (Able ARTS Work's previous name) in 1982, said the tech-savvy among her 65 employees quickly stepped up. Within a week, Able ARTS had workout and class videos on YouTube. Zoom, FaceTime and other applications weren't far behind.

"It was a very scary time for our clients," Dolas said. "Most of them resist change. And we haven't offered virtual services before."

Developing online material was only part of the task. Staff also had to do an inventory of internet access and technology for each of the more than 150 clients. Overcoming technological challenges and personal resistance, Dolas said about 75 percent of the client roster are receiving services now.

And once services began, the difference could be seen immediately.

"Through a host of communication channels, we are making connections," Dolas said. "We have tele-health sessions where we can see how they are doing, help them exercise and get moving. We can train family members to help, too.

"Our arts and other classes get them engaged. We've seen, family members have seen, transformations. Now they know they weren't abandoned."

Technology stretches past mere communication, Dolas added. As the name indicates, visual arts are a big part of what the organization does.

In normal times, the George V. Deneff Gallery at 3626 E. PCH shows the work of Able ARTS Work clients. Those artists receive 50 percent of the sales price when work is sold, with the rest going to replenish supplies, Dola said.

But now the gallery is closed, and the artists don't have access to the supply closet at  Able ARTS Work. So instructors are teaching computer art applications, and students are getting creative with whatever material they can find at home.

There is still a place to buy the art, too. Able ARTS has set up its own Etsy Shop at www.etsy.com/shop/ableartsworkgostore.

Able ARTS Work's basic budget come from the state Department of Developmental Services, and that hasn't been cut because the training provided is essential.

"We're living our philosophy, ‘Love Before Learning, Learn for Life,'" Dolas said. "Everyone is learning together…

"But, like a lot of nonprofits, we've lost our fundraisers. We need help."

For more information about Able ARTS Work, or to donate, go to ableartswork.org

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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