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Escuela del Rio celebrates 50 years of helping developmentally disabled adults in North County

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An organization on a mission to help those with disabilities is celebrating 50 years of service to North SLO County residents.

Once known as the Atascadero Committee for Education, Escuela del Rio helps developmentally disabled adults, Executive Director Debbie Argano told New Times.

Through federal funding, the Atascadero Committee for Education was able to purchase a school on the corner of Del Rio and San Benito roads in 1977. The school worked on teaching students communication skills, integrated work services, behavior management, community volunteerism, nutrition and physical fitness, and more.

SAY CHEESE Escuela del Rio serves 90 adults with disabilities in North County and teaches them communication skills, integrated work services, behavior management, community volunteerism, nutrition and physical fitness, and much more. - PHOTO COURTESY OF DEBBIE ARGANO
  • Photo Courtesy Of Debbie Argano
  • SAY CHEESE Escuela del Rio serves 90 adults with disabilities in North County and teaches them communication skills, integrated work services, behavior management, community volunteerism, nutrition and physical fitness, and much more.

"We started getting called Escuela del Rio because it became easy to say, that's where the location was, and we were a part of the school system," Argano said.

Once Proposition 13 passed in 1978, however, much-needed funding was lost, and the school shut down. But with community support, a new facility was purchased, the lessons continued, and now more than 90 adults with disabilities in North County have access to the services Escuela del Rio offers.

"We serve the developmentally disabled, intellectually disabled population of adults in North County and we offer services whether they are educational, leisure based, or vocational based," Argano said. "We teach them things, get them involved in the community, and help them to grow."

From the minute they turn 18, students can join the program, and they don't have to worry about graduating out of the program because they can stay as long as they feel comfortable.

"They can start, leave, then come back—we're pretty flexible," Argano said. "We're part of California's regional center system so that's through our local organization, which is Tri-Counties Regional Center, and they have to be registered with Tri-Counties Regional Center. As long as they are registered, they can come tour and decide if this is someplace they want to be."

Tri-Counties Regional Center offers a free online registration for those wanting to receive services in Ventura, Santa Barbara, or SLO County. The registration is followed by a quick questionnaire, and the organization follows that up with a phone call. For more information, visit tri-counties.org or call (805) 461-7402.

To highlight the constant support and work of the Atascadero community members who continue to help fund the center, Escuela del Rio will host an open house on June 26 from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., Argano said.

"We will have displays of a variety of pictures, video media from in the past and where we are now," she said. "We're making a movie presenting a 50-year sign and it's a way to get some people from our past and some people from our present to get together and kind of compare stories and laughs."

The open house at 5940 Rosario Ave. in Atascadero will be a free event, the public is invited to attend, and Argano said this would be a great opportunity for future students to take a tour, meet the team, meet the other students, and decide whether Escuela del Rio is the place for them.

"We're just so grateful to the Atascadero community for supporting us all these years," she said.

Fast facts

• On June 15 from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., the NAACP SLO County Branch will be hosting a day of fun at Mission Plaza to celebrate Juneteenth. The event will feature a resource fair, silent auction, and bake sale; musical performances by an array of artists; and a soul food dinner for attendees. Community members are also encouraged to visit the SLO County History Center and learn about Black history while strolling through art and cultural exhibits. For more information, visit juneteenthslo.com.

Concerts in the Plaza will start the summer season on June 21 with a performance by Manuel the Band. The event is free every Friday during the summer from 5 to 8 p.m. in SLO's Mission Plaza and offers a variety of music genres from pop to reggae. For details, visit downtownslo.com/events/concerts. Δ

Reach Staff Writer Samantha Herrera at [email protected].

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