Southern California Chapter: Building Synergy
Editor’s Note: After checking in on well-established chapters the last few issues, in this issue we check in on one of the newer NSCIA chapters to learn about the logistics of getting a chapter off the ground.
Having lived and worked in and around the Southern California disability community for almost 30 years, Rick Hayden would seem to be perfectly positioned to start an NSCIA chapter serving the region and its many members. Hayden, a T8 para, has worked for Everest & Jennings, Colours and Icon Wheelchairs and has a long background in sales and marketing that has connected him across the disability industry and community. Yet when United Spinal Association’s Nick LiBassi approached him about launching a chapter in 2013, the road forward didn’t seem obvious.
“I didn’t have a vision initially,” says Hayden. “I knew we needed something, but how it was going to interface with what was already in place, and how it could be a benefit to folks in these four counties was a little obscure.”
The first point of order was defining exactly what area the new chapter would cover. Hayden quickly decided there was no way to cover all of Southern California and settled on four counties that make up the southeast corner of the state: San Diego, San Bernadino, Riverside and Imperial.
The next step was assembling a board of directors. Hayden chose his board with an eye toward ensuring all the different areas of the SCI community were represented. “There were certain people that were just naturals,” he says. “I wanted a rehab doctor, a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, a social worker, a rec therapist, a parent, a business owner, and it’s always nice if you can get an attorney.”
Finding those individuals proved easier than Hayden had anticipated. “The big thing was being able to sell them on what we want to do,” he says. “My intention was not to take up a lot of peoples’ time, because if you do that, you end up losing people as they get frustrated.”
With an excited board in tow, Hayden and crew got to mission planning. He expects accessible transportation and policy will be key focuses, but the chapter’s main purpose will be connecting and supporting area members.
“As we took a look at the four counties and what we needed, we are so fortunate down here, there are all sorts of resources — you’ve got adaptive sports, you’ve got adaptive recreation, you’ve got peer counseling, you have support groups, even on the social side there are lots of events and lots of resources and lots of things going on down here,” he says. “We decided, number one, let’s not reinvent the wheel. Everything is here. But what we tend to hear on a frequent basis is that people are not able to find things because they are so scattered, so our primary objective at this point is to gather all of this information and have it in one spot to be a resource hub and to work with these other groups and to let them know we’re not here to compete with them … but to build a better synergy between the groups down here.”
All the planning and hypotheticals started to become more tangible when the chapter opened a bank account and picked up a banner for events. Hayden has been hitting up other chapter leaders for advice.
“Instead of reinventing the wheel, in some cases we’ll copy and paste,” he says.
Since signing the paperwork to officially become a chapter, names and contacts for area members have been flowing in, but the board is waiting to start regular meetings. “We didn’t want to put the cart before the horse and not have enough follow through,” says Hayden. “We’re getting close, though.” He anticipates holding meetings in different locations to accommodate the widely-dispersed members.
To find out more about the Southern California chapter, or to get updates on their progress, visit www.facebook.com/SCChapter.
Spotlight: San Diego
by Rick Hayden
San Diego County offers a great climate to complement the beautiful beaches. Many of these beaches have great access, with power/manual beach chairs available and paved sidewalks. Access to buildings, restaurants, museums, tourist attractions and shopping gets a thumbs up. Though San Diego may be the hub, there are many areas of interest in Riverside, San Bernardino and Imperial counties as well. Palm Springs offers all that a desert community can offer and is an easy getaway. The tram will sweep you away from the flat land and up the side of the mountain with a breathtaking view. Riverside offers the historic Mission Inn, a great place to visit that takes you back to the roots of the state. There are not many places in America where you can start your day by surfing in the Pacific, spend the afternoon in the mountains sailing on Big Bear Lake, and finish the day enjoying the night life of Palm Springs in the desert.
Accessible van transportation within San Diego County actually gets a thumbs down. A recent study showed that there are only six accessible vans for transporting a wheelchair within the county. The cost of securing transportation from one of the cab companies with an accessible van is on the high side. However, if you are already downtown, rolling access is very good — just a bit of a push up and down the hills when going away from the harbor. Should you decide to use the Metropolitan Transit System, you will find accessible buses and trolleys. I have used Amtrak when moving up and down the coast and found the access quite good. The staff is friendly and willing to help with access on and off of the train.
Full Range of Activities
San Diego and surrounding counties offer just about anything someone would want to see or do in Southern California. In southwest Riverside County you can find a large number of wineries that offer wine tasting and fine dining. Family attractions such as Sea World are close by and accessible. Other than a slight hill to get to the accessible seating area, Shamu the Killer Whale is very accessible, and the viewing area is just out of the splash zone. The historic Hotel Del Coronado on Coronado Island is right by downtown San Diego and very accessible. Harbor tours, sightseeing or a tour of the USS Midway are right within the downtown area, also accessible. And who wouldn’t want to spend an evening dining and enjoying some great music in the Gaslamp District located within rolling distance from the harbor area? With great restaurants, stores and entertainment venues, this historic district has something for everyone. Despite many Victorian-era buildings, accessibility is mostly good, though a phone call ahead won’t hurt.
Must See, Must Do:
Restaurant: Nonno’s Ristorante in Murrieta is about 60 miles north of downtown San Diego. The ravioli and atmosphere are outstanding. Enjoy the black-and-white Sophia Loren movies running most nights.
Attraction: San Diego Zoo Safari Park is a great place to spend the day, especially with kids. Be sure to take the tram ride, which is fully accessible. Ask to sit right up front with the driver, for the view.
Shopping: Sea Port Village (downtown) is a great place to spend the afternoon doing a bit of shopping before you head over to watch the Padres play at nearby Petco Park. Disabled services at Petco are outstanding, and seating is affordable.