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Jeffrey Vargas and Alex Mateo

SOCIAL AND RECREATIONAL ACTIVITIES PLAY AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN THE LIVES OF ALL PEOPLE, including children and adults with developmental disabilities. These activities enable the development of social skills and personal relationships that foster a sense of community and provide enjoyment to daily life.

A Quarterly Publication of the Regional Center of Orange County

VOLUME 37 NO. 2 | SPRING 2023

Jeffrey Vargas shares art he created at OCCTAC

In the Spotlight are two persons Regional Center of Orange County serves who have thrived through their participation in social and recreational activities at the OC Children’s Therapeutic Arts Center (OCCTAC), a Santa Ana-based non-profit organization that has served individuals with and without disabilities, in fully-inclusive settings, for more than 23 years.

OCCTAC works to meet a broad range of family needs that extends well beyond the arts.

Beginning with just 100 students in music, art, dance and early childhood programs, OCCTAC now serves more than 7,000 individuals who represent the full age and income range and come from as far away as Los Angeles and Long Beach. Through partnerships, grants and collaborations with the City of Santa Ana, County of Orange, Santa Ana Unified School District, RCOC and others, OCCTAC works to meet a broad array of family needs that extends well beyond the arts to encompass mental health counseling for youth and families, student tutoring, work development for young adults, programs for seniors, family mentoring and assistance coordinating social service supports for the entire family.

Jeffrey Vargas

Jeffrey, a 30-year-old who has cerebral palsy and an intellectual disability, has attended OCCTAC piano, art, dance and drum classes since June 2022 and loves being there. In fact, his mother, Esperanza Vargas, said she noticed positive changes in him within a week of his first class.

“His mood was elevated and he was more alert,” she said. “He’d wake up early and remind me that it’s program day!”

Jeffrey Vargas with his mother and caregiver Esperanza Vargas

In addition to being fully-inclusive, OCCTAC offers programs, services and supports for people of all ages, so the entire family is welcome and Esperanza typically is with Jeffrey at his classes. Jeffrey is very social and quickly made friends with other program participants, as has his mother who encourages other parents to take advantage of the program’s very supportive environment.

“It’s helpful for parents to de-stress and speak with each other about the challenges our families have,” she said, also noting that OCCTAC staff convey a lot of love to those in their programs and make everyone feel special. OCCTAC’s Founder and Executive Director Dr. Ana Jimenez-Hami remembers how joyful she was when she was told some time ago that when Jeffrey was hospitalized, all he wanted was to get out and go to his classes.

“He dances in his wheelchair, and expresses his emotions and feelings through dance like any other person,” she said.

Alex Mateo

Alex, a 17-year-old with autism, has enjoyed OCCTAC’s art, ceramics and digital animation

classes since July 2022 and now spends a lot of time drawing outside of class, especially his favorite superhero Spiderman.

Alex Mateo enjoys creating art at home, as well as in his OCCTAC classes

His mother, Elizabeth Barragan, appreciates that the classes have helped Alex explore his creative side, but also has seen significant improvement in his confidence, social and communication skills since beginning the program.

“He’s more expressive now and more able to speak up at school,” she said, noting that Alex previously had difficulties in school due his lack of communication skills.

His RCOC Service Coordinator Carlos Correa also pointed out the value of these programs for Alex’s future.

“It’s been very beneficial for him,” said Carlos. “Not just to expose him to new hobbies, but

also to develop his independence and perhaps interests over the longer term for a career.”


SOURCE Regional Center of Orange County Dialogue

Regional Center of OC Spring 2023
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