L.A. GOAL Celebrates 50 Years of Service, Synergy, and Solutions

Everything starts with a dream . . .

According to my dictionary, one definition of jewel is "a person or thing that is treasured, esteemed, or indispensable." That certainly describes L.A. GOAL, (www.lagoal.org) at 4911 Overland Avenue, Culver City, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit agency that was founded on a dream some parents had of how to make life better for their children with developmental disabilities.

On Sunday, June 23rd, from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., the Members, their families and friends will be celebrating L.A. GOAL's 50th anniversary at Playa Studios, 11260 Playa Court, Culver City.

The roots of this vibrant community, which improves and elevates the lives of its Members and, in so doing, creates a magical reciprocity with the larger community, go back to 1969.

It all started when six teenagers with developmental disabilities were graduating from high school. "Special education" classes were not then available, and their loving and concerned parents, wanting them to have the highest quality of life possible, feared that they might well experience social isolation and regression in skills following graduation.

"It takes a village," but since none existed to serve their children's needs, the parents banded together and created one. Los Angeles Greater Opportunities for Advanced Living, i.e., L.A. GOAL, came into being so they could teach independent living skills (the first such program in the State of California) and host social activities in their homes.

There were many highlights over the years, such as the Rap Group that started in 1983, enabling Members to work with a facilitator to find answers to everyday problems and learn how best to use their abilities.

In 1988 the "I Wanna Work" Office Training Program began, followed in 1989 by the Visual Arts Program, with a professional artist hired to teach drawing and painting. HELPLINE, a 24-hour emergency telephone line staffed by volunteers, came in 1990, a busy year that also saw a monthly Family Support Group formed to share concerns and ideas. Additionally, that year the first art exhibition was held at Jan Baum Gallery. The L.A. GOAL artists were off and running!

The Sewing Class came in 1991, and then, in 1995 – a very significant year – INSIDE OUT PRODUCTIONS, a commercial art and sewing studio, was established, offering not only training in art, sewing and ceramics but also paid employment to its artists. Initially, 20 Members were interviewed and hired as artisans.

In 2001 an art exhibition was held at the Skirball Cultural Museum, a monthly cooking program began, and, with a grant from Culver City Parks and Recreation, programs in Music Therapy and Yoga were introduced.

2003 saw the establishment of T.A.D.A.A. (Teens and Adults with Disabilities Advancing Autonomy, Advocacy and Awareness), as well as "Talking Vanities," the first play written and performed by the Members.

2004 was another banner year, with L.A. GOAL moving to its current Culver City location after having occupied other venues over the years. It also saw over 35 Members graduate from the Work Training program into paid employment. The following year "Disabled Fables" (Aesop's fables retold and illustrated by L.A. GOAL artists) was published by Star Bright Books.

The artists continued to flourish, with 50 being showcased in 2008 at L.A. GOAL's 18th annual art exhibit, held at the Koplin del Rio gallery.

In 2016 the Members performed "Advocates and Love," an original play exploring self-advocacy and the rights of individuals with disabilities.

2017 will be remembered for the first integrated art show featuring work by artists with and without disabilities, held at the Helms Design Center. That is also the year I came on board as a volunteer poetry teacher and helped arrange for publication of Members' poems in Culver City's Centennial Poetry Collection.

L.A. GOAL hosted its 27th Annual Art Show in 2018, with over 1,000 visitors. It also featured an interactive weaving project that allowed community members and L.A. GOAL Members to create a work of art together. Additionally, last year another play, "I Remember," was premiered, and a weekly dance class was started.

Programs now include art theory, drawing, painting, sewing, quilting, embroidery, weaving, multimedia, ceramics, music, gardening, and vocational training.

Members' work is shown at galleries and boutiques throughout the country, including The Skirball Cultural Center, Just Folk, and the California Folk Art Museum. There is also an online shop on Etsy.com, selling Members' original art, prints, apparel, and handmade gifts.

This is an extraordinary organization, one that has received awards that include the annual Vision Award from Down Syndrome of Los Angeles for providing employment, training, and community awareness; the Joan Palevsky Award for Outstanding Nonprofits in the Arts; and a $20,000 Grant Award from the Disability Studies Philanthropy Class at UCLA.

Those visionary parents 50 years ago had a dream that has resulted in several Members moving into more independent living situations and achieving employment in the community.

L.A. GOAL's success at creating sweet dreams is tied to its dedicated staff, volunteers, and families. Petite Konstantin, MPA, who accepted the position of Executive Director in 1984, has played an integral and innovative role in that success.

Several dramatic changes followed her affiliation, as she immediately reduced L.A. GOAL's reliance on state funding and launched a fundraising program. To learn more and provide support, please go to https://www.lagoal.org/ways-to-give.html.

Konstantin's philosophy is one of inclusion and empowerment. There are no "clients" or "consumers" at L.A. GOAL, no terminology to differentiate the Members as "other." She believes in operating as a family, with everyone a family "Member," a term the Members voted to approve some years ago.

She created monthly Members' Meetings where Members elect their own governing board, manage their own treasury, plan activities, evaluate the programs offered, and participate in the L.A. GOAL Board of Directors' meetings.

"It is my hope that L.A. GOAL will continue in perpetuity to provide the quality services we have given to people with developmental disabilities for the last 50 years," Konstantin said. "In addition, I hope we continue to not only fulfill our mission of helping individuals with disabilities to develop skills and obtain jobs, but also achieve our vision of individuals with disabilities being fully integrated into their communities."

Two of the Members, Dorian and Brad, also shared their thoughts with me.

Dorian said he "had a fantastic experience at L.A. GOAL. My favorite part was when I started my first holiday recital with Pablo Sune. It was like my first time here. Another favorite part of the recital is singing some jazz music. Oh, and in Music Therapy I was drumming to the African rhythms!"

"The first day I walked into L.A. GOAL it made me feel so warm and cheerful," Brad said. "My friends were there when I needed them the very most. I believe there is nothing I can't do if I only trust my heart, what is inside of me. The world would not be the same without L.A. GOAL."

Very true, so congratulations, L.A. GOAL, and here's to the next 50!


Reader Comments(1)

Kjoy writes:

This article is so unbelievably sweet. I love the program and the people involved sound just amazing . It’s incredible that Sandra can come up with a seemingly endless supply of beautiful programs and happenings , just in Culver City alone. It gives me so much hope for the world ❤️