After school program on quest for more space

After school program on quest for more space

Kristen Hanlon

Ala Costa's executive director, Ron Halog, at the after school program's Littlejohn Park space. Photo by Kristen Hanlon.

Jackie JacksonDaley’s 12-year-old son, Lucas, made his first real friend at the Ala Costa after school program, which serves developmentally disabled youths. Lucas, who is autistic, had traveled to Berkeley and back after school each day to attend the program, but last year, the nonprofit struck a deal with the Alameda Recreation and Park Department to expand into Littlejohn Park.

“I can’t speak highly enough about Ala Costa,” JacksonDaley said, adding that the nonprofit’s staff “are very kind, loving people.”

At Littlejohn Park, the program can accommodate 15 youths, and Ala Costa – the only after school program on the Island for special needs children – has another dozen on a waiting list. The program’s executive director, Ron Halog, has been seeking a bigger space in Alameda for the past few years, but has so far come up empty.

Ideally, Halog said, “we’d love to find a space that can accommodate up to 50.”

Ala Costa has been serving children and young adults with a wide range of disabilities, including autism, Down syndrome, and cerebral palsy, since 1972. In addition to the after school program for youths ages 5 to 22, which operates from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on school days and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on school holidays and during the summer, the East Bay nonprofit offers transitional and adult community training programs and a respite program for their families.

Offering an after school program that emphasizes social and life skills, plus recreational opportunities, Ala Costa is filling a void that previously existed for Alameda’s special education students.

“They take the kids on field trips, which is great, because it’s rare for kids in special education to have that opportunity,” JacksonDaley said.

Before the Littlejohn location opened, Lucas went to the Berkeley site after school, JacksonDaley said (the program, which serves youths living in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, also has a site in Oakland). The bus ride there could take up to 45 minutes, she said.

“Then I’d have to drive to Berkeley during the rush hour, pick him up and bring him back home,” she said – a journey that could take up to an hour when traffic was heavy.

Halog appealed unsuccessfully to the school district for space before striking a deal with the park department for a two-room space at Littlejohn Park. He had hope to serve two dozen youths there but can only accommodate 15 due to the number of bathrooms on the site.

“We were hoping to serve 24 students at this location, but because we have community care licensing, it all comes down to bathrooms,” Halog said. “Littlejohn has only two, so we are limited to 15 at this site.”

He said Ala Costa has had “a great partnership” with the park department and that the nonprofit is continuing to work with the school district in its quest for more space. But he conceded the school district, which has struggled to house some of its own services and has come under fire in recent years for co-locating multiple schools on single campuses, has its own space constraints.

In addition to meeting licensing requirements, any space Ala Costa considers must meet the needs of the youths it serves – which includes wheelchair access, playground, and proximity to local merchants and public transportation.

JacksonDaley said it’s been “wonderful” having Lucas closer to home. “It’s enabled me to get more work done, and we can eat dinner at an earlier hour,” she said.

“I wish more families in Alameda could benefit from this program,” she added. “It’s truly unique.”

For more information about AlaCosta, visit http://www.alacostacenters.org/.

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