It’s hard to believe that Tierra del Sol opened its doors 50 years ago and officially became a non-profit organization on February 8, 1971. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been touched over the last five decades thanks to the fortitude and vision of eight founding families and the partnership they formed with the School Sisters of Notre Dame.
These parents’ opposition to institutionalizing their sons and daughters with lifelong disabilities was the catalyst for the amazing partnership that made Tierra what it is today. Together, along with grants from The Eddie Cantor Foundation and The Lawrence Welk Foundation, the Sunland Campus transitioned from a preparatory school and retreat center for the Sisters, to a community where people who had been marginalized since birth could grow with the love, acceptance, and dignity they deserved.
Tierra del Sol’s 7.5-acre campus truly lived up to its name, Land of the Sun, “a place where growth would take place, just as the sun brings life from the earth.” That growth began with sons and daughters of the founding families and the hardworking Sisters who became their teachers, educating the new students in domestic arts, gardening, fitness, animal care on the campus farm, artistic endeavors, and social skills. The Sisters continued their role as instructors until 1986.
At that same time, family members volunteered in classes, provided transportation and clerical support, among other duties, one of which was organizing the famous Spaghetti Dinner Fundraisers.
During the 1990s, in an effort to continue giving the growing population of those served a valued life, Tierra began pushing parameters and shifted its model of service to integrated workforce development.
Volunteerism and paid employment were identified as a way of expanding an individual’s potential to obtain meaningful employment. More than three decades later, a variety of industries and businesses have recognized the value of Tierra employees in areas such as clerical, retail, hospitality, customer service, janitorial, landscaping, and food service, among others. Tierra remains a leader in advancing productive community citizenship. And today, our partnerships with local employers and numerous non-profit organizations continue to grow.
Tierra also realized that there were those who wanted to contribute their gifts to the world in more non-traditional ways, thus began Tierra’s Arts Program. First Street Gallery Art Center opened in 1989, while Tierra’s Sunland Campus Studio continued to grow its Art Program.
Today, Tierra’s Careers in the Arts Program mentors 80 Artists, many of whom have shown and sold their works in Tierra’s Gallery in Chinatown, as well as other galleries and exhibitions throughout the world.
In 2007, Tierra launched our College to Career model, NEXUS, in order for young adults with developmental disabilities, including autism, to experience success in higher education. Today, we partner with seven college campuses and share in the pride that Tierra students experience when they walk across the stage to accept their diplomas or complete an academic program and ultimately begin their careers.
Over the years, it has become clear that Tierra is not a place, rather it is a dynamic organization that empowers people with developmental disabilities through creative pathways to employment, volunteerism, education and the arts.
Please join us as we kick-off this incredible milestone year and celebrate a half-century of inclusion and value for all people with developmental disabilities. We look forward to bringing you a glimpse into our venerable past, and the stories that continue to inspire us to live our values of Person-Centeredness, Passion, Honesty, Respect, and Full Engagement.