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Let's give a big CHEER to our Coalinga programs

UCPCC teacher and student hard at work in Coalinga.

Big things are happening in the quiet, rural town of Coalinga on the west side of Fresno County, which is home to United Cerebral Palsy Central California’s CHEERS and CHEERS to You programs for adults with disabilities. There, students are learning life skills, like how to manage their money and purchase popcorn for Friday movies at the center, and what tools they need to pass the test and become a licensed driver.

We spent some time chatting with Kim Garcia, UCPCC administrative associate at the Coalinga site, and talked about what the main goals of the programs are there, and what makes their students so special.

The programs in Coalinga are known as Cheers and Cheers to You. Why? And what’s the difference between the two?

CHEERS stands for Center for Habilitation, Education Enrichment, and Recreational Services. CHEERS is our on-site program and CHEERS to You is the name we gave for when we started doing community outings and transportation.

What goals get priority at the Coalinga program?

All their goals get priority but depending on unique, individual goals – for example, we had one student who wanted to get his driver’s license – they want life skills, how to budget and manage their money, how to take care of household needs. We do it all, from arts to educational to life skills. The only one we struggle with in this area is the vocational aspect. A lot of them want specific jobs, as well. They want to be police officers. So we do things like teach them how to fill out mock job applications, sit for a job interview, or how to read stop signs – things a police officer would need to be able to do.

Kim Garcia talks about the programs in Coalinga.

How many students come to the Coalinga center?

Right now, we are at a total of 12 but we have a total of 28 including our alternative on-site and off-site programs. This whole time we have been working with all of them.

All of our students live with their families. We still have some students who are a little unsure of returning. … They want to do the alternative, off-site services.

Our first wave of students came back [in March] and they have been back five days a week. This next wave will be the same.

What makes the programs in Coalinga special?

I think we are special because we are on a smaller scale. We have a more personalized connection and are “in tune” with our students’ needs because a lot of my staff has grown up with them. Coalinga is a small community. They know them (the students) and they know their families; they know their backgrounds; they can tell us their needs and their wants.

What would you like people to know about UCPCC?

That’s a hard one. I think, all the services we do offer. Even though it’s a small community, we get known about by word-of-mouth more than anything else.

What would you like people to know about the Coalinga students and center?

Things here are fun. They [the students] have a good time with all the access to education and life skills, the socializing with their peers, going out to the community and visiting other communities like Hanford, Visalia and Fresno.

What sort of resources do you utilize most in Coalinga?

We don’t have a lot of resources because we are a rural area - the parks, the community gym for health and fitness twice a week, anything to do with shopping.

Student Miguel just passed his driver's license test.

If people wanted to support CHEERS and CHEERS to You specifically, what would be on your wish list?

The most important item on our wish list is another building so students can have their own outdoor area instead of always having to walk to the park; so they can do things like their own gardening and sports activities. The other one would be money for experiences: Different things that are available out of town that aren’t available here. What makes it hard here is things in this community that our students could participate in are usually on the weekend or after hours for us.

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