By April Charlton

Contributing Writer

Since its founding more than six decades ago, Alpha Resource Center of Santa Barbara has seen great strides made for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

But there’s more work to be done.

“We have seen incredible progress over the past 65 years, from no educational opportunities, segregated schools, to today, with fully inclusive opportunities for children with intellectual disabilities,” said Kimberly Olson, Alpha Resource Center executive director, although discrimination does still exist, she added.

Comedian Dennis Miller shares a moment with a fan from Alpha Resource Center of Santa Barbara at the annual Circle of Life luncheon.

She pointed to many intellectually and developmentally disabled adults who lack employment, affordable and accessible housing, transportation, and community-participation opportunities as examples of discrimination.

“We’ve made progress and the attitude in our community has progressed as well,” Olson said. “But there is still much to do before we have a community that welcomes and values the participation of all people.”

Founded by a trio of moms in 1953 who believed their disabled children should be raised at home, not in an institution, and provided an education, the women wanted to establish a resource for parents sharing the same values. They also wanted to change the attitude of the community so children and adults with disabilities would be valued, according to Olson.

“We continue those three goals today,” Olson said, noting the organization’s mission is to “empower individuals, support families and build a community that values the contribution of all people.”

Alpha Resource Center is a multi-faceted service center that serves more than 2,000 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as their family members, throughout Santa Barbara County.

The organization aims to achieve its founders’ goals through various programs, such as Katie’s FUNd, a recreation program established in 2003 on the South Coast that builds social and recreational opportunities for young adults and teens starting at age 13. Alpha also offers life-skills training and day services for adults.

Adult day services include fitness, the performing arts, employment and community access, with program participants assisting in the development of individualized services tailored to achieve their personal goals. A broad range of opportunities exist for participants, from volunteering at the Santa Barbara Zoo or Meals on Wheels to gaining employment at an Alpha’s thrift store or a local fast food restaurant.

Alpha’s largest program, in terms of numbers served, is its Children, Family Support & Crisis Services, which provides outreach and support on everything from special education to the transition into adulthood to parents across the county — from Guadalupe and Cuyama to the Santa Ynez Valley and from Lompoc to Carpinteria, according to Olson.

Program staff have an office and resource lending library in Santa Maria, as well as a site in Santa Barbara, and are available to help parents help their children be all they can be.

Alpha operates SlingShot Art Forum, an open art studio and gallery supporting about 40 working artists with intellectual disabilities.

The lending libraries, which also provide mobile services countywide, contain books, periodicals, fact sheets and DVDs on topics such as developmental disabilities, living with disabilities, specific conditions, prevention, awareness, diagnosis, treatments, support agencies and much more.

“We receive referrals for every child diagnosed or at risk of a developmental delay,” Olson said about Alpha Resource Center.

Alpha also operates SlingShot Art Forum, an open art studio and gallery in downtown Santa Barbara supporting approximately 40 working artists with intellectual disabilities, as well as thrift stores in Goleta and Santa Barbara that are operated by a blended staff of abled and disabled employees.

The three retail outlets provide the largest portion of unrestricted revenue for Alpha, which has a $5 million annual operating budget. The organization receives the majority of its funding from state money and thrift-store sales but also relies on donations to keep programs and services available.

“We typically need to raise approximately $600,000 over the state funding we receive for our adult service programs and gross receipts from the thrift stores,” Olson said. “We … have a generous and committed donor base to assist us in raising the funds we need.”

For more information about Alpha Resource Center and services provided, or to make a donation, visit or call 805-683-2145.