A Space for Possibilities
When we think about partnerships at Tierra, we envision a solid relationship built on the foundation of shared common core values, opportunities for growth, and the mutual understanding that people with disabilities can, and should be, included and valued for their unique abilities. At Kidspace Children’s Museum in Pasadena, where Tierra associates have been volunteering since 2010, that vision has come to fruition through a full-circle partnership.
Currently, Rebecca O’Donnell (aka Becky), Kurt Freidenberger, and Karen Hoge work at Kidspace twice a week. Starting off as volunteers, this group raises the bar when it comes to displaying dedication and commitment. Michaela Sanchez, Tierra Workforce Development Program Manager, shares, “the enthusiasm they exude is admirable and infectious and hasn’t gone unnoticed. We knew, after such a successful volunteer partnership, it was time to take our relationship to the next level and introduce Kidspace to the Paid Internship Program (PIP). Through a PIP, the State of California will pay the wages of individuals with disabilities for up to a year to give them valuable job Kurt Freidenberger sets up for Kidspace visitors experience in an industry or career that interests them.” Miguel Lyons-Cavazos, Tierra’s PIP Project Coordinator, adds, “Any business can participate in a PIP! Once an internship has been completed, our goal is for the associate to get hired by the company where they currently work, or by another potential employer offering a similar position.”
The PIP process is usually fairly simply, but since Becky, Kurt, and Karen are served by three different regional centers, it took some time and planning. Michaela adds, “It’s something Kidspace and Tierra wanted to make happen, so we invested in the partnership and remained optimistic.” In October of 2019, Kidspace transitioned from volunteer partners to PIP partners.
When looking back at the development of the Kidspace PIP partnership, Vince Dominguez, Kidspace Operations Manager, shares, “We weren’t sure how it was all going to work out. But, what we did know is that we wanted Becky, Kurt, and Karen on board because they’re part of our team and do a great job. The four core values at Kidspace are community, creativity, joy, and inclusivity, the latter closely aligning with Tierra’s mission. We stand by our values and practice what we preach. The PIP program with Tierra has been one of the best decisions we’ve made.”
In 2020, the pandemic brought a year-long closure to the museum, and the PIP partnership abruptly halted. The health and safety of guests and staff were the highest priorities. And, while they reopened in May of 2021 and wanted Becky, Kurt, and Karen to return, it took time to navigate the new normal that had impacted budgets and schedules. Michaela explains, “There were a lot of unknowns, but we kept communicating; and this February, our associates returned to their positions. Our relationship with Kidspace is so natural. When I visit the museum and I see Becky, Kurt, and Karen working, I see no segregation based on disability. It’s what we strive for and want for all Tierra associates.” Pauline Zuniga, Tierra Workforce Development Instructor, adds, “Kidspace includes them in staff meetings and events like the bagel breakfast and company picnic. They’ve all grown so much since being back. Kurt and Becky know their schedules and each museum station. And, Karen can’t wait to show me what she’s accomplished at the end of every shift!”
When asked what’s the best part about working at Kidspace, Becky, who holds an associate degree in child development from Los Angeles Valley College, exclaims, “The kids! We get to sing, dance, and play with children every day. It’s a lot of fun. This is my dream job!”
When asked what’s the best part about working at Kidspace, Becky, who holds an associate degree in child development from Los Angeles Valley College, exclaims, “The kids! We get to sing, dance, and play with children every day. It’s a lot of fun. This is my dream job!” that as of this July, Kidspace Becky O’Donnell works with children visiting Kidspace officially hired Becky, Kurt, and Karen as employees.
When the right match happens, inclusion organically transpires, the stigma of societal barriers disappears, and the world holds space for possibilities.