Today we’d like to introduce you to Lucile Lynch.
Lucile, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
As a parent of boys with disabilities, the nearly 86% unemployment rate in San Diego County for individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities was something I wanted to change. This high unemployment rate has remained unchanged for more than a decade despite the Employment First Policy (enacted in 2013 as part of the Lanterman Act), which made the hiring of individuals with developmental disabilities one of this state’s highest priorities. I served as an education advocate for over 20 years using my legal background to help other families once I moved to Carlsbad from Philadelphia so I wanted to use my background to change these dismal numbers around. Before moving to Philadelphia, I had served as a prosecutor in the Philadelphia DA’s office and as a trial attorney in a large firm (Reed Smith) and felt like I needed to use these skills to make the change.
Unfortunately, neither our postsecondary nor our K-12 educational institutions offer “spec ed” vocational courses to prepare these potential workers for employers to meet the priorities under the Employment First Policy. The state’s Education Code, which requires students to pass a minimum of 13 specific courses to earn a high school diploma, does not identify or require a single course for non-diploma bound students. These students simply get “certificates of completion.” The state’s Donahoe Act, which governs postsecondary education, similarly does not require any special education vocational tracks at our community colleges or 4-year universities to prepare those with intellectual disabilities for jobs. So, where are these potential workers supposed to be trained to overcome the significant employment barriers? Lack of employment for this population means a lack of access to employer benefits, increased social isolation (because most do not drive) and they are 7x more likely to be abused. Somehow, special ed students are expected to exit their K-12 programs into a “gen ed” community and find and keep jobs.
Unfortunately, as demonstrated by the high unemployment rates for this county, the current “group work experience” models used by many have not made much of an impact in terms of competitive integrated employment so as parents of those with disabilities, a small group of us decided to see what was working. Studies showed that postsecondary, small ratio, structured instruction was one of the best practices in improving employment outcomes so I, along with my co-founders Mary Backer, Karin Barrows and Janet Schenker launched Beacons, Inc. to provide vocational workshops that use assistive technology and hands-on learning experiences to teach actual workforce skills needed for local entry-level jobs. We opened our doors in November 2018 at 6150 Yarrow Drive in Carlsbad to put the recommendations of the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability in action. Our pilot, made possible in spring 2019 by a grant from the National Foundation for Autism Research (NFAR) showed an over 170% increase in skills and knowledge of workplace practices. We knew we were on to something so we expanded our workshop content, and shared our data and outcomes with other organizations to see if we could get enough interest to expand our program generally. We were able to get funding from Qualcomm to update our technology and funding from the San Diego Regional Center to make the training available to eligible San Diego Regional Center consumers at no cost to the trainees. We were able to hire highly experienced teachers and the results we’re seeing are incredible both in learning and outcomes. We just finished our fall workshops and the average increase in skills and knowledge was over 200%. As a parent who has been involved on boards and committees for years trying to improve the outcomes of those with disabilities, I am honored to now be involved with this 501(c)(3) nonprofit that is making the changes needed. I served as an education advocate for almost two decades and being able to use that background to do what’s right for our trainees is rewarding beyond words. We are a mostly volunteer run organization and I have the privilege of working with an amazing group of talented women on the board: Mary Backer, Stacey Hard, Laura Makings, Karen Rusnak and Janet Schenker. I just finished my term as president and look forward to seeing what our new president, Mary Backer, can do for 2020!
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
There are always obstacles trying to get people to support those with intellectual disabilities. People too often see only the disability instead of the amazing abilities and potential of individuals with intellectual disabilities. So many of these individuals have difficulties advocating for themselves so there is not much interest locally in political circles or otherwise in our North County community so it is left to the families to make the changes needed. Most of us involved at Beacons have been advocating for our children, now adults, throughout their educational journeys so we have a group of parents well versed and well trained in addressing the challenges we face. We all need to work harder to give these individuals a voice so that they have more say over their futures, programming and options. In recognition and respect of self determination and self-advocacy, the Beacons workshops integrate advocacy training in each of our workshops through “person-directed” planning units to help increase our trainees’ awareness of community options and then help them access supports and tools to build bridges to those options.
One of our major struggles is finding employment for our trainees. Students should be exiting their K-12 districts with jobs in place, but unfortunately, they do not. We still need our local employers to better support modified or customized employment and work schedules. Many employers do not realize that if they will simply welcome a trainee into their worksite to learn the skills needed for an entry-level job, the state has a “paid internship” program that pays the trainee directly, provides job coaching at the site to train, and even workers comp so that the employer has very little exposure or commitment initially. Open your doors for training, and we’ll open your hearts to employment. We are still working on creating employment partnerships and employment opportunities. We need local employers to work with us to identify paying opportunities that do not necessarily fit into the traditional work hours needed for part-time or full-time employment.
But the biggest struggle for me to overcome as a parent is wondering what will happen to my loved ones when my husband is not here. I helped create Beacons so that there would always be a safe place for my son to go to with opportunities for lifelong learning. Because it is run by families, I know people will always be there who understand the needs (and worries) from ground zero.
We’d love to hear more about your organization.
As one of the founders, I have worn many hats — treasurer, president, curriculum writer, grant writer, web designer and more. Several years ago I launched an educational company and built it into an international company and that has allowed me to offer skills to help build Beacons. I currently serve as VP of the Pathfinder vocational workshop program and served as President in 2019.
We have only been open just over a year and in that short time we have launched:
1. Club Beacons (a weekend social event twice a month). In less than a year, most of these events are full with waitlists. We currently have a roster of over 100 people.
2. Leadership Council – To give our participants a voice in what we do, we offer a Leadership Council we’re our participants provide input on themes and activities for events, learn about leaders and leadership skills and more.
3. Pathfinder Vocational Workshops – We offer small workshops up to 10 students and with a 10:3 instructional ratio that uses built-in assistive technology and tools, provides touchscreen computers and whiteboards to offer a wide range of expressive input, creates accommodation plans, develops websites and employment profiles and much more. We were able to secure funding from the San Diego Regional Center so that eligible trainees may attend at no charge.
4. Summer workshops – We offer short weekly workshops to enable participants to have curriculum supported workshops. Last summer, we taught 1st Responder Interactions, 3D art, dance, DJing, painting, photography, science explorations, and self defense.
5. Parent workshops and consultations to help equip family support teams with information and training.
6. Self-Determination planning to help empower the individual with disabilities (and their support teams) with information and tools to create pathways to future goals.
7. Tailored Day Program: We offer 1:1 ratio learning options to help our trainees with job coaching at a job site, learn new skills using a 1:1 tutoring type format, access community options and more!
What sets us apart is that we are primarily parent and volunteer run organization. The parents and other volunteers who support Beacons, Inc. are here for all the right reasons – that is to change the lives of those with intellectual disabilities for the better by empowering them with skills, knowledge and support.
What am I most proud of? Everything. Our board, our trainees, and those who support us are all helping us do some amazing things for amazing people.
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Our hardworking talented board has made Beacons, Inc. a reality. Our current board consists of President Mary Backer, VPs Lucile Lynch, Laura Makings and Janet Schenker, Corp. Secretary Karen Rusnak and Board Chair of Community Partnerships Stacey Hard. Each of us has volunteered countless hours to make Beacons happen and I, for one, must thank my family for being supportive of this endeavor. There have been many many weekends we have volunteered to work on-site or to volunteer at an activity so I would personally like to thank my husband Brian Lynch, mother Libby Frank, and my boys Chase and Connor for helping me make this dream a reality in such a short time with supporting me and their involvement as well. I want to thank all the other families as well who helped us move into our space, set up and more (the Barrows, Kerrs, and others!)
I’d also like to thank the support of the National Foundation for Autism Research for providing a grant to help us initiate our workshops, Qualcomm for providing funding to help us update our technology to make our site accessible to all, and to the San Diego Regional Center (John Filley and all the service coordinators), who shared our vision.
The NCL Surf Cities Chapter has also helped us by providing volunteers as has the TVIA (Teen Volunteers in Action) and volunteers from our community. Mary Ellen Stives from the SCDD and Krista Warren from Mira Costa have also been helpful in supporting the general need for increased options for postsecondary education. Thank you! And, finally, assembly member Jim Frazier, who tirelessly works at the state level to develop legislation to empower those with intellectual disabilities.
- Club Beacons – $30 for 3 hour events twice a month with support and meals
- Address: 6150 Yarrow Drive, Suite E, Carlsbad, CA 92011
- Website: www.BeaconsNorthCounty.com
- Phone: 760-448-6230
- Email: BeaconsNorthCounty@gmail.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/beaconsnorthcounty/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BeaconsInc/
Photos courtesy of Beacons, Inc.