Disability doesn't dim Jiovani's enthusiasm for life

DOWNEY - Jiovani Tavera has never seen himself anything other than normal - and maybe that's because he's as normal as they come. Like almost every other 30-year-old American male, Tavera maintains a regular job, tackles his responsibilities around the house, and watches television with his little nephew.

"I try to be there for my mother," said Tavera, sporting an aqua-blue hoodie and Oakland Raiders cap. "I help her any way I possibly can." Tavera, however, does all of this from an electric wheelchair.

"Even though I'm handicapped on my left side down, other people see myself as one of them," said Tavera. "I don't think of my disability as a disability, but more of an ability. I see myself as normal as usual."

Despite his challenges, the longtime client at The Arc - Los Angeles and Orange Counties continues to exhibit resilience, refusing to let his immobility stop him from participating in all aspects of community life.

"The Arc is a second home to me," said Tavera, who first joined its programs in 2002. "It has helped me to come to realize that I can do a lot more with life than just staying at home playing video games or being lazy.

"The Arc really...helped me," Tavera sighed. Since coming to The Arc, which provides vital services and training for nearly 400 children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Tavera has participated in adult education classes, life skills courses, and employment training.

"I force myself to do things I can't do," Tavera said. "I tell myself, 'you can do this - the only thing stopping you is you.'"

Raissa Baguio, coordinator of counseling at The Arc, has watched the facility and its impact expand over the last 25 years, most recently under Executive Director Kevin MacDonald.

"The changes are all good - I've seen growth in the programs being offered," said Baguio. "Kevin is doing a great job taking the community-based programs, workshops, and employment services to the next level."

Administrators at The Arc, like Baguio, are counting on members of the community to support the 17th annual Arc Walk for Independence on March 23 in support of children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Since 1997, the Arc Walk has raised funds and awareness for The Arc's various educational and occupational programs by inviting community members to walk either a one or three-mile route around Stonewood Center.

Starting at 8 a.m., registered walkers who donate $15 to The Arc will set out on the course, walking for independence.

Beginning at Acapulco Restaurant and Cantina, the 3-mile walk travels west on Firestone Boulevard to Lakewood Boulevard, up to Florence Avenue, around to Woodruff Avenue and back to Firestone. The Arc has seen its annual fundraising event grow from just 250 walkers in 1997 to nearly 4,000 last year.

A faithful participant over the last 10 years, Tavera maintains the Arc Walk is vital in order for him and other clients at The Arc to reach independence both economically and socially.

Currently, Tavera works in the warehouse of Southeast Industries, the packaging and assembling company owned and operated by the Arc, but the Warren High School graduate has his sights set on another job.

"At some point I want to get an outside job as a greeter," Tavera said with a smile. "The Arc Walk allows jobs to come in for people such as myself so we can become accomplished and feel good about ourselves.

"I would say [to the community], come and experience it. We could use the help and the funds for the programs we have."

********** Published: March 7, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 47