Saturday, March 17 , 2018, 6:14 am | Fair 49º


Alpha Resource Center Director Marks 30 Years of Service

A celebration honors Kim Olson for her work and dedication to the Santa Barbara nonprofit

The Alpha Resource Center of Santa Barbara recently honored Executive Director Kim Olson for 30 years of service.

Friends, family, former staff members and supporters gathered in celebration of her work and dedication to Alpha, a local nonprofit known for its Thrift Stores and progressive programs for children and adults with developmental disabilities.

Olson’s career and passion for those with special needs began in the summer of 1976, when she took a job as a camp counselor for children with special needs. During the interview, “I was asked, ‘Have you ever worked with kids with developmental disabilities?’ My immediate reply was, ‘They’re kids, aren’t they?’ I got the job,” Olson said.

That job led her to Alpha, where she started in 1979. She has served in many capacities, including the past 17 years as executive director. She has played an integral role in fostering change in the perception and inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in the community.

“She has advocated for change on a grassroots level her entire career,” said longtime friend and colleague Sue Dumm of Angels Bearing Gifts. “From her early days at Alpha, as a direct support staff, she had confidence in her participant’s ability to be independent.”

Many of the adults entering Alpha’s programs at that time had lived sheltered lives with little or no public schooling. Some had been discharged from state institutions, or graduated from segregated schools. Olson took that in her stride and planned activities to introduce a new world to the people in her care. They shopped in the community and she entrusted them with their own money. She has a fond memory of a weeklong camping trip for a group of people who had never been away from home.

One parent still recalls, “I’ll never forget the look of pride on my daughter’s face when she came home from camp and refused my assistance in unpacking her suitcase. She still asserts her independence and takes pride in her accomplishments.”

Alpha, under Olson’s direction, continues to pioneer new opportunities for people with special needs. Mari Tyrell-Simpson, a parent of one of Alpha’s teen participants and board president at Alpha, said, “Alpha has given our son confidence and a place to be valued and accepted, especially in the teen years when fitting in is a challenge for all kids. Working at the Thrift Store gives him a sense of accomplishment and the opportunity to work with a team of people who see him for his abilities rather than his disabilities.”

Alpha participants give more than 100 hours of community service per month in Santa Barbara, and they are proud to be productive and make a contribution. They also work for pay on Alpha’s campus and in local businesses.

Leadership and determination during the past 30 years has brought great change to people with developmental disabilities. Olson is confident that Alpha is ready to face the expanded set of challenges of the next generation of people in need of support.

“We have 40 new families referred to our children and family services every month. We have 75 adults waiting for our day program services. Many young adults are interested in employment and independent living,” Olson said. “There is still work to do. Our commitment is that Alpha will continue to be available for all that need us.”

— Marisa Bourke is the outreach coordinator for the Alpha Resource Center of Santa Barbara.

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