When Michael was born in 1970, the hospital medical team knew very little about Down Syndrome.  The limited information they did give his mother, Judy, was negative, outlining “all that your child will not be able to do.” That was not Judy’s vision for her son’s future.  Judy located and visited Abilities United and found many volunteers working with children in an environment that was positive and very encouraging.

Judy remembers, “Abilities United gave me hope for my new baby, that his life would be ok and Abilities United could be a partner with us in identifying resources and providing appropriate development intervention services. They gave me the ongoing encouragement I needed to cope with the many doubts and challenges of raising a child with unique development guideposts.“

“Having a child with a disability is like entering a whole new terrifying world,” she continued, “where you fear your own parenting skills may not be up to the needs of this precious person you want so desperately to walk and talk, but also learn to thrive and eventually make his own way in a world that is very complex.”

Early intervention
At Abilities United, Michael received Early Intervention services including occupational therapy, which helped him learn to eat, walk and talk.  “It was hard to see all the children with their individual challenges, but they improved through the endless patience of the volunteers and staff,” Judy recalls. “No one said I should put Michael in an institution.”

The Abilities United children gathered together frequently and, eventually, all went on to a special needs school. He then attended and graduated from Palo Alto High School . “Michael was smart, resourceful and independent. He could read and write and he loved sports.”  Michael was on the Palo Alto High School wrestling team and worked out every day to stay in shape.  During the summer, he took part in all the city recreation programs that were available and went to soccer camp at Stanford University.

Judy proudly explained: “Michael spent two years at Foothill College in the Community Integration Program. He went to and from his activities alone, having learned the public transportation routes well. In 1995, several of us parents started the Page Mill housing apartments, designed for those with disabilities.  There was a lottery selection in 1997 and Michael, at age 29, was selected and still lives there.”

Staying connected
Through Abilities United, Michael found a job at Marriott, and later, at Stanford University, working in the kitchen. After that, he worked at Abilities United.  Judy states,” Michael was a janitor at Abilities United for five years before retiring. After that, he found ways to continue his connection with Abilities United through the Abilities United Community Connections program and his volunteer work at the BOK ranch.”

In ­­­2007, Judy and Michaels’s stepfather, David, began preparing for retirement. Judy sat on the board of Abilities United at the time and another board member, Ellen Turbow, an estate planning attorney, made a presentation on planned giving.  Ellen met with David and Judy and introduced them to several gift plans that might also provide a lifetime income stream. 
Judy and David decided to establish a Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT), funding it with a highly appreciated rental house. They used an attorney that specialized in setting up CRTs to guide them through the process.  By forming the CRT, they were able to create a reliable ongoing income stream for retirement and leave a portion of the remainder of the trust to Abilities United when the trust ends.

Over the years, as Michael matured, Abilities United has provided supportive services such as after-school recreation, day care and respite. As a young adult, Michael enjoyed an evening of dancing and socializing with the Abilities United Club while his parents had a quiet dinner at home. Eventually, Abilities United gave Michael employment support, and help with his transition to independent living.

An independent life
Judy recollects, “For Michael, Abilities United has meant lifelong friendships, adults who are willing to listen patiently, and a place of refuge from the stress of everyday life for an individual with cognitive challenges. Michael is a very social guy who can make friends everywhere in his hometown of Palo Alto, and that is partly thanks to the atmosphere of inclusion that Abilities United has set within the broader Palo Alto community.”

Judy continues, “Michael never misses the 3rd Thursday of the month Abilities United Club, as this event provides a venue for meeting with old friends who come from all over the Bay Area, as well as the many staff who have become his friends and mentors over the years.

“Michael turned 44 in 2014. Throughout his entire life, Abilities United has been his ‘home away from home.’ We want to show our appreciation to Abilities United for the wonderful care and support they have provided for Michael all these years.”