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With her dark brown hair bobbing at her shoulders as she walked, 22-year-old Brittnay Willeford stepped up to the podium at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, pushed her heavy-rimmed glasses up a bit, and began to read to the council a letter her grandmother needed to help her write.
Despite a reading level that barely tops fourth grade, Willeford came to City Council to talk about some of the things she enjoys most: bowling, skiing and racing down the zipline at Camp Grizzly Beach – activities she will miss out on if the city follows through with plans to cut funding to Access Leisure, a program offered through the Parks and Recreation department that provides sports, camping, social and fitness activities for children, teens and adults with disabilities.
“The camps that are put on by Access Leisure are the most important to me,” Willeford read from her letter during the meeting Tuesday. “All of my friends are there. It is important for me to have a place in the world where I feel like I fit in.”
In this year's budget, Access Lesiure recieved $146,000 from the city to fund social and fitness programs for teens and young adults with intellectual disabilities, programs which serve more than 3,000 people every year, according to Program Director Philip Sinclair. Those funds are scheduled to be eliminated from the city budget starting July 1, according to Program Supervisor Annie Desalerno.
Jenny Yarrow, Access Leisure program coordinator, said the budget reductions would “annihilate” the teen and young adult services.
“The entire department will be eliminated,” Yarrow said. “There aren’t any other opportunities for the people we serve like this. It’s really a shame.”
Willeford and her mother, Lori Bottega, were among the 30 people who spoke at Tuesday’s council meeting about the recreation programs for disabled people in Sacramento that are in danger of elimination with the proposed city budget.
“It’s an organization that sponsors 88 events a year on a meager budget,” concerned resident Patrick McCarthy told council members Tuesday. “We ask you to consider maintaining that budgetary item for time immemorial.”
McCarthy said he is a member of an organization that sponsors athletic events for disabled people with Access Leisure through the year – and he is the father of a developmentally disabled adult son who participates in Access Leisure activities.
The majority of public speakers at the meeting were people who rely on Access Leisure programs on a daily and weekly basis. Many shared personal experiences and pleaded with council members to keep the program active.
“I don’t know why you want to close Access Leisure,” Maria Facio, 33, said Tuesday. "It is my family. I love it. I need it to be open.”
Bottega told council members that Access Leisure has been a “life-saver ” for her daughter.
“She’s made lifelong friends through the program,” Bottega said. “There’s nowhere we can go without her knowing someone. She’ll be devastated if the program is ended.”
Yarrow said Access Leisure partners with many local businesses, such as charter bus companies, movie theaters and bowling alleys, to provide a variety of outings and events for participants.
“We’re not the only ones that lose with the cuts,” Yarrow said. “Those other businesses benefit from us too, and they’ll lose too.”
City Manager John Shirey introduced the proposed budget to council Tuesday. The council will take a closer look at the Parks and Recreation portion of the budget May 15.
Melissa Corker is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCorker.