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Jefferson Award Winner Creates Community For Children With Disabilities

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Jefferson award winner Barbara Guidotti (CBS)

Jefferson award winner Barbara Guidotti (CBS)

CASTRO VALLEY (KPIX 5) – It was more than 40 years ago when an East Bay mother discovered services weren’t available for her own disabled son. So this week’s Jefferson Award winner created an organization that today is helping thousands of families.

When Michele Gouveia-Smith goes on an outing with her family, it takes planning . A specially outfitted van makes it possible for she and her husband Brian to take their 11-year-old son Blake to the park and bring along his brother Cameron, who uses a wheelchair and needs full time care for multiple disabilities.

“I see him as a beautiful gift,” Gouveia-Smith said of Cameron. “How lucky and blessed we are that God chose our family.”

Cameron is legally blind, non verbal and suffers seizures. Insurance doesn’t begin to cover all of his needs. Gouveia-Smith said it took another mother who faced similar challenges, to understand.

That mother is Barbara Guidotti. Her son Michael was born with intellectual disabilities in 1947.

“There was no social outlets. There were no activities or anything for them,” Guidotti remembered. “So we decided they need to have something to look forward to and to enjoy life as well!”

So in 1972 Barbara and her husband started CARH — Community Assistance for the Retarded and Handicapped — in Castro Valley. They began with a yearly picnic where families could exchange information, have fun, and find support.

“We wanted to get them out and become a part of the community,” she explained. ‘That was our goal.”

A lot has changed in the 41 years since Guidtotti launched CARH. Today the organization serves more than 1500 clients and offers activities seven days a week.

In a newly built center named after Guidotti’s son, who has since passed away, there is bingo, crafts classes, dances, and weekend movies. Next door, adult clients help maintain the landscaping. CARH relies solely on donations – used goods from the community which they sell or recycle. You can contribute using the links on their website: www.carh-inc.org.

Executive Director Mary Gianopolous says the money raised also helps families, like Cameron’s cover items insurance won’t, like extra glasses and therapy classes.

“The need is greater than ever before,” Gianopolous commented.

At age 91, Barbara Guidotti still volunteers regularly with the program she helped start four decades ago, testament to the power of a mother’s vision for her son.

“You are a member of this community and you should be able to partake in some of the things that they provide,” she said.

“We just want to feel included and Barbara has done that,” Gouveia-Smith added.

So for supporting families and individuals with intellectual disabilities in her community, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Barbara Guidotti.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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