Via Services is a private, independent non-profit that has been dedicated to helping individuals with disabilities and special needs achieve greater self-sufficiency and lead richer lives since 1945.
The Via Vanguard
Issue 9 - November 2019
In This Issue:


Letter from the Executive Director

I am honored to be the new Executive Director of Via Services. In partnership with our dedicated staff and Board of Directors, I look forward to growing and enhancing the services we deliver to our valued families that participate in our Via West, Altitude, and First Step Programs. I am thankful for the confidence our Board of Directors has placed in me to lead this wonderful organization into the future. I hope to earn that same confidence from all of you.

As we enter the holiday season, I'd like to take some time for reflection and a look ahead to the coming year.

While we certainly enjoyed many organizational successes, 2019 was a challenging year at Via West. Due to a perfect storm of record-low unemployment, skyrocketing wages, and the high cost of living here in the Bay Area, we struggled to hire enough quality counselors to serve our traditional number of summer and respite session participants. We sincerely regret the impact this had on many of you. Please rest assured that I, along with Camp Director Scott Webb and his team, have made counselor recruitment, training, and retention our number one priority. We anticipate a return to normal respite sessions in 2020 and an expanded camp schedule for the summer! Look for the new program catalog in January.

We are deeply grateful for the ongoing trust and support from our families and for the incredibly generous gifts of our many donors and partners. Your support means the world to us.

In 2020, Via is celebrating its 75th anniversary! We've come a long way since our origins as the Crippled Children's Society back in 1945. Look for special newsletters and events chronicling our history throughout the year. The Via Ball, our primary annual fundraising gala, is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Next year's event will be held on February 29th, and the theme is Moulin Rouge.

At Via West, we are investing further in our counselors with new training programs, particularly in the area of behavior management. Facility and infrastructure projects, including new sensory spaces, improved walking paths, and technology upgrades are also in the works. 

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for me, or if you'd just like to say hello, please feel free to contact me at In the meantime, I wish you all a happy, healthy, and loving holiday season.

Thank you,

Matt Bell, Executive Director

Follow us on Facebook and Instagram to stay connected with us all year round.


GTGiving Tuesday
#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving that harnesses the collective power of individuals, communities, and organizations to encourage philanthropy and to celebrate generosity worldwide. Following Thanksgiving and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, this year's Giving Tuesday will take place on December 3rd and will kick off the giving season by inspiring people to collaborate and give back.

Our goal this year is to raise $50,000 to build 4 new designated accessible sensory areas throughout campus, with convenient locations to allow for quick redirection when a participant is in need. Each of these will include large and small motor activities and interactive components to help promote regulation, development, and the ability to integrate in new environments.

Via Services is Hiring!
Join our amazing team of dedicated and hard-working individuals. 

Via West is in need of Special Needs Counselors to work in a hands-on, fully immersive setting with our camp participants. We are seeking caring, active, hardworking individuals who want to help serve the special needs population.

First Step is searching for a Speech Language Pathologist to provide direct speech and language therapy services to children birth to 13 years old as well as work on a multi-disciplinary team to conduct assessments to determine eligibility for Early Start services.

RBT Program
At Via West we strive to have highly qualified employees work with our fragile population. Our ultimate goal is to have all of our counselors RBT-certified. An RBT is a Registered Behavior Technician, which is someone who works under a Behavior Analyst to help implement behavior- analytic services. We understand this takes time, so we will be running cohorts of ten employees at a time to go through the program.

We are hoping to recruit individuals who have a passion for working with individuals with special needs and who strive to pursue a career in behavior management. The RBT program could be a stepping stone for individuals who plan to work as BCBAs (Board Certified Behavior Analyst), Speech Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, etc.


The holidays are upon us, and we have two special respite sessions to celebrate this month. December 6-8th is for our kids, teens, and young adults, and we will bring in 13 tons of snow to transform campus. December 13-15th is for our adult participants, and we will have a live band and firefighters to deliver the Christmas tree. Both weekends will have lots of arts and crafts, as well as stocking decorating. Each year, we teach our participants the importance of giving back by stuffing and decorating holiday stockings for a local shelter. This year, we will be donating to West Valley Community Services.

How can you help? Bring your extra, unused toiletries to either of our locations by December 6th. We are also looking for volunteers to help out with the activities during both sessions.

25th Annual Via Ball

Join us on Saturday, February 29, 2020 at Villa Ragusa for the 25th Anniversary of the Via Ball where we will be celebrating 75 years of Via Services! This is our most important night of the year, and we are so excited to share this momentous and historical evening with you! 100% of the proceeds go towards our programs - First Step, Via West, and Altitude.

This year's Moulin Rouge themed gala will feature dinner by Villa Ragusa, live music from Velvet Plum, exciting silent and live auctions featuring one-of-a-kind items, and so much more!

Tickets, tables, and sponsorships are available now.

donor Featured Donor: Graciela D.
Graciela is the parent of one of our Via West participants. Her son has been coming to camp for 19 years - camp is his home away from home. Graciela has been donating to Via for the past 5 years to our Giving Tuesday campaign as she loves to see the physical results of her gifts. She, along with countless other families, have helped Via West build their beautiful pergola and accessible picnic area, the amazing outdoor amphitheater, and more.

This year, Graciela changed the type of her gift to a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD), which is allowing her to donate even more. She celebrated a milestone birthday this year, and turned 70. This means that when she withdraws from her 401k as a QCD, she can donate directly to Via and not incur any tax ramifications. Everyone benefits, and Via was able to receive $2,000 more from Graciela! 

Graciela is looking forward to seeing the Giving Tuesday sensory stations next year as she had an even bigger part in getting those built. Thank you so much for being a dedicated donor!

If you have any questions about how you can donate to Via through a QCD or RMD, please contact us.  

Featured Employee: Melissa Fraser
Melissa is the Behavior Specialist at Via West Campus. She is responsible for developing strategies to improve how we interact with and respond to participants' behaviors during respite and summer programs. She also develops behavior management training opportunities for all staff, evaluates participant behavior plans, and ensures proper pairings and support for both staff and participants.

Melissa is relatively new to Via, and she started as a counselor this past summer. Her stellar work quickly paved the way to her current position. Prior to Via, she worked as a paraprofessional at a high school in New Hampshire, where she grew up.She has a B.S. in health science with a focus in community health and health promotion, and she is Safety-Care certified, a certified trainer, and a registered behavior technician. She will begin her Masters program in applied behavior analysis in January.

Melissa says that the family atmosphere at Via helped her cross country transition because "everyone is so welcoming and I feel so grateful to be a part of such an amazing organization that truly cares for all of its employees and the people it serves." 

Scott Webb, Via West and Altitude Director, expresses how comfortable Melissa makes the participants feel and says that Melissa "has already proven to be a valuable member of the Via West Team as her insight, training, and care for our clients is helping to elevate Via West to a new level of excellence."

Outside of Via, Melissa spends time exploring California. She loves hiking, walking in the park, yoga, and cooking at home.


My 7 year old son with autism has a wide variety of issues and triggers when it comes to food. We usually avoid situations where this will be an issue, but this year, we are going to be visiting my family during the holidays. Do you have any advice on how to make this a smooth visit when it comes to food?
- Arielle L.
Answered by Marcy De Perio, M.S., OTR/L, Occupational Therapist, Via Services

Begin by talking to your child about what is going to happen during your holiday meals 2-4 weeks before - who will be there, any traditions that your family engages in, possible foods that might be there. Emphasize that he is not expected to eat their food as you do not want to cause unnecessary worry. Bring his favorite foods with you and make sure you have his plate of preferred food ready when everyone sits down. This way, he can participate during the meal.

If your child is triggered by the sight or smell of food (tries to leave the table, wiggles in his chair, gags, covers his nose, etc.), have him sit as far as possible from the sight and smell of the food display. Compliment him any time during the meal for anything positive he is doing or did - "I like how you brought your plate to the sink when you finished, great job," "you are sitting so nicely in your chair," "great work using your utensils," etc.

If family members, adults or children, begin to question why he is eating something different, stay positive and share a general statement along the lines of "he has different food preferences" and just leave it at that.

What do I need to know about the transition from family therapy to school based therapy? - Douglas Y.
Answered by Emily DiPiero, M.S., CCC-SLP, Speech Language Pathologist, Via Services

If your child is participating in the Early Start Program, your services are provided by an Individualized Family Services Plan (IFSP). Once your child is closer to age 3, your services coordinator will connect you with your local school district. Your child will have another assessment to determine if they qualify for special education services through the school district. This assessment marks the beginning of the transition from an IFSP to an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

A few differences between and IFSP and an IEP are that you will no longer have a service coordinator, services will be provided at a school, services are reviewed yearly rather than every 6 months, and the services will be child-focused rather than family-based. You are an equally important part of both the IFSP and IEP teams. Special education services are most effective when professionals and families work together to identify the child's strengths, needs, and goals.

Want us to answer your question? Email us and your question could be featured in a future newsletter!

Visit our blog Like us on Facebook View on Instagram View our profile on LinkedIn View our photos on flickr