The Board of Directors of Abilities United, at its March meeting, affirmed its commitment to begin planning activities needed for the redevelopment of all Abilities United facilities including a new, state-of-the-art aquatics center.  The existing facilities consist of three 1960s-era buildings, including the closed aquatic center, currently serving over 2,500 children and adults, and an administrative facility built in the 1980s.
The decision to pursue long-term redevelopment planning came just six months after the unexpected October 2013 closure of the Betty Wright Aquatic Center due to the aging 40+ year-old facility that could no longer be repaired.  That event became a catalyst for Abilities United to accelerate future plans that had already been under discussion, following a comprehensive assessment of all its programs completed in 2011. 
“Developing modern facilities commensurate with the quality of the services the community has relied upon for 50 years presents exciting opportunities for innovation and collaboration,” said Board President, Karen Moore.  “This progress and clear commitment will enable the Board, our new executive leader and our supporters to shape the future together.” Abilities United is forming a Redevelopment Task Force focused on the master planning.  The organization is also recruiting for a successor to long-time Executive Director Lynda Steele, who will retire in June 2014.
United for the Future Campaign Launched
In addition to launching the facilities redevelopment planning, Abilities United has also completed the initial phase of their “United for the Future” campaign to raise $2 million for programs and services that offer integration and inclusion opportunities for individuals with disabilities and their families.  The campaign was launched in January 2013 and has raised $1.2 million as of April 1, 2014. The David and Lucile Packard Foundation made a campaign lead gift of $250,000.   Others have also donated to campaign naming opportunities as well as the general campaign. New programs that will result from this fundraising effort include “Art for Inclusion”, “Drowning Prevention for At-Risk Youth”, and service scholarships as well as Children’s Services staff development training and an updated accessible playground.  
The entire Abilities United board has contributed to this campaign through their donations of  $134,000 for the new “Lynda Steele Leadership Fund”, in honor of the retiring Executive Director. 
The remaining $800,000 will be raised through the continued efforts of the campaign cabinet composed of Palo Alto community members including co-chairs Dr. Harry Hartzell and Elizabeth B. Wolf, as well as Shirley Bob, Stan Parry and Ellen Turbow.  Dr. Hartzell states,  “I see this campaign as a way to help provide quality facilities and needed services for people with disabilities far into the future. As a medical doctor and as an Abilities United board member, I have seen the benefits of Abilities United services to the community.  It’s been rewarding to see Abilities United develop and grow though good times and hard times; it is somewhat of a miracle to see a service organization like this survive 50 years.  I find it gratifying to use my experience to help provide for the future of this organization that I have been engaged with for 40 years. As co-chair of this campaign, I can accomplish something worthwhile for the future of the Abilities United and people with disabilities.”
The Abilities United 2014 fundraising campaign will focus on raising an additional $800,000 with a goal of reaching the $2 million by January 2015.  Donations can be made at or for more information contact Carol Lillibridge, Campaign and Planned Giving Director at 650-618-3328 or

Facilities Redevelopment Planning Begins
Founded in 1963 by 12 local families as an alternative to institutionalization for their children with developmental disabilities, Abilities United has grown to provide a wide range of comprehensive life-long services for children and adults through education, training and support services that enable those with disabilities to be integrated into the community.  In addition to aquatics, its current programs focus on children’s development, family support and adult services, reflecting a vision for communities in which people of all abilities learn, live, work and play together.  New facilities will open possibilities to fully realize that vision and create a national model.

 “Taking a comprehensive approach to planning and design for all our facilities will leverage community investment and offer the greatest potential for innovative programs and services to meet increasing needs,” said Abilities United Board President Karen Moore.  “We are very gratified by the level of interest being expressed by members of the community and by volunteers who are stepping forward to offer their expertise and support at this important time.”

Interim Aquatic Services Added to Meet Community Needs
Since the aquatic center closure, significant progress has been made to provide aquatic services at interim locations, evaluate options for rebuilding, and assess long-term related community needs. The agency has successfully sought several interim locations and new partners to continue providing aquatic therapy services.  At DeAnza Cupertino Aquatics (DACA), Abilities United offers continuum of care services, from physical therapy to group rehabilitation classes. In San Jose, at Timpany Center, hydrotherapy services are provided to adults with severe neuromuscular skeletal conditions.

As of March 31, 2014, Channing House in Palo Alto was added to the list, with continuation of the popular Betty Wright Swim School private lesson program. Abilities United is in negotiations with the Redwood City Parks and Recreation Department to provide a drowning prevention program tailored to Latino families and their children at the at Hoover Pool. Information about the interim programs is available online at

In recent years, the Betty Wright Aquatics Center has offered aquatic physical therapy, aquatic personal 1:1 training, small group fitness and rehab classes, adapted aquatics, pre- and post-surgery services, and an array of services for individuals with chronic, neurological, orthopedic and developmental conditions; a curriculum-based, learn-to-swim program from parent/tot to pre-swim team; and health education and wellness classes for pregnant women.

“This program has literally been a life-saver for some of my patients,” said Palo Alto Medical Foundation physician Sal AbiEzzi, MD.  Prior to its closure, the pool at the Betty Wright Aquatics Center was being used by thousands of community members. As the baby boomers age, the need for aquatics therapy is expected to grow significantly.  Unlike recreational warm-water pools, a therapy pool requires a consistent temperature of 93 degrees. In addition to meeting this standard, the aquatic center named after it’s founder, Betty Wright, reflected its visionary founder’s advanced understanding of features that today are known as “Universal” design, ensuring ease of access for people of all ages and abilities. 1960s-era construction techniques and plumbing were not as advanced, however, and in recent years, the pool began experiencing maintenance issues that ultimately led to its closure. 

Among the real estate professionals currently providing volunteer guidance on the redevelopment planning are Robert Reidy, Barbara Schussman, Bill Phillips, Randy Popp and Paula Shaviv.

In addition, a team of students at the Stanford School of Engineering advised by Associate Professor of Management Science & Engineering Riitta Katila recently completed a project to examine the potential for a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient aquatics center.  The group will present its report called “LEED and ADA User Optimized Design—The Betty Wright Aquatic Center” at Abilities United in April.
Press release written by Wendy Kuehnl, Abilities United Marketing Director