The Kiwanis Club of Santa Barbara recently inducted Work Inc. client Gilbert Lopez as a full-fledged member. It was the first time the 40-year-old club had had an opportunity to induct a Work Inc. client.

The special occasion would not have been possible without the help of Work Inc. counselor and Kiwanian Lisa Gosdschan. A few years ago, when Gosdschan and and fellow Kiwanian Jennifer Sills volunteered to ring bells for the Salvation Army’s holiday campaign, they talked about how Gosdschan could fill up her days. Sills, who works for Work Inc., suggested Gosdschan consider working with disabled adults through the organization.

In the beginning, Gosdschan worked with three clients but is now up to five, including Lopez. She helps disabled adults live independently by providing a myriad of services, depending on their needs. She spends most of her time with Lopez, seeing him for five hours per day Wednesday through Friday. And because Wednesday is Gosdschan’s Kiwanis meeting days, she began bringing Lopez to the weekly meetings in September.

“Kiwanis has truly been the biggest change for Gilbert. Because one of his most significant challenges is socialization, my goal was to help him develop in this area as much as possible,” Gosdschan said.

“I thought, what better then to bring him as my guest to my Kiwanis meetings? At first, he was very shy and was attached to my hip for the whole meeting. He didn’t talk with other members or even know when to get his food or how much he could eat.

“Now, six months later, he is a very different person. He goes into the meeting on his own, gets his own seat, knows when to go to the buffet line and how much he can have to eat. He gets his own coffee and talks with other Kiwanians,” Gosdschan said.

In fact, Lopez has blossomed since Gosdschan has taken him under her wing. Lopez lives alone and holds a part-time job at the Santa Barbara Harbor cleaning bathrooms and doing odd jobs. He also takes the bus around town to visit friends and plans to fly to Sacramento to see his mother — all on his own.

At a recent board meeting, the Kiwanis Club of Santa Barbara voted unanimously to approve Lopez’s membership, made possible by Gosdschan’s work and Sid Smith, who has generously underwritten the cost of Lopez’s annual dues.

“None of this would be possible without Kiwanis starting Work Inc. 40 years ago, Work Inc.’s continuing dedication to helping disabled adults and a caring heart from a dedicated volunteer,” said proud Kiwanis president Alvinn Wallace.

The Kiwanis Club of Santa Barbara meets weekly at noon Wednesday at Mulligan’s Café, Santa Barbara Municipal Golf Club, 3500 McCaw Ave. Click here to e-mail Brad Naegle for information on becoming a Kiwanis member or call him at 805.569.1213.

Melinda Johansson is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Santa Barbara.