Project Turnaround looks to encourage leadership roles

SOLANA BEACH — Persistently high unemployment and a lethargic economy has made life increasingly difficult for many Americans.
The situation is worse for adults with developmental challenges, according to Nydia Abney, a Solana Beach resident who founded Project Turnaround nearly three decades ago to empower individuals with special needs.
“The world is in turmoil with so many elements — unemployment, protests,” she said. “This requires a response, and young people are being called on to be leaders.
“Those with developmental challenges often don’t know they have skills and abilities,” Abney said. “They just let things happen. They have potential and leadership skills that just need to be awakened.”
With that thought, Abney is refocusing the efforts of her organization. When Project Turnaround began in 1984, the goal was to develop social, intellectual and cultural programs and events for young adults with behavioral and social problems.
Participants were mainly encouraged to develop social skills through visual and performing arts programs that included concerts and plays, as well as classes such as speech making, practical geography, applied math for money management, nutrition and cooking.
They were also prompted to become empowered to succeed and make an impact on society and uncover new possibilities.
While those goals remain, Abney said she is revamping Project Turnaround to stress leadership training. “Unemployment is worse for people with developmental challenges,” she said. “So they just sit around. That’s tragic and painful.”
Abney is seeking individuals who want to build their leadership abilities as well as mentors to awaken those skills through music, art, acting and more.
“People who are developmentally challenged need to be part of society because up until now they have been segregated,” she said. “We want to provide activities so they can create stained glass or candles under the direction of professionals and sell their art at market value.
“This is exciting and necessary so they can see what they are capable of doing, and that increases their self-esteem,” Abney said. “Right now most are in a dependent situation. We need to change that. By creating beautiful things and earning money they will become more a part of society.”
Abney’s new plan also features the development of “ecovillages,” in which participants will have discussions and social time to share resources and create an educational program about young adults with challenges.
“Sometimes they are not accepted,” Abney said. “We need to integrate them so people know they aren’t useless and they are capable.”
Project Turnaround has also recently partnered with Employment & Community Options, a nonprofit organization that educates and empowers low-income adults with developmental disabilities with the skills and knowledge necessary to achieve personal goals.
Those low-income adults looking to secure meaningful work are connected with businesses seeking reliable workers.
Once the new program is in place, Abney plans to hold daily classes in the Del Mar or Solana Beach area from 1 to 4:30 p.m. The cost is a $5 donation, mainly to cover expenses.
Classes are open to county residents 18 and older with developmental challenges. Professionals who want to work with participants are also needed.
Contact Abney at (858) 481-3998 for information.
“You can’t be a leader until you discover that you can do things,” Abney said. “Once you do that, you can awaken your self-esteem and advocate for yourself. This is the best time to create a new way of doing things.”

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