SAN ANSELMO (CBS 5) – A lifelong passion to help people with developmental disabilities inspired a North Bay woman to create a unique program to help people lead more independent and fulfilling lives.

“I work at Banana Republic and I enjoy working there,” Robin Sloan explained. “I put things away, I fold, I say ‘Hi’ to customers. They talk to me and they hug me and see me smile.”

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Sloan has been working at Banana Republic in Corte Madera for 15 years, a connection she made through Pacific Diversified Services, or PDS.

“Our mission is to help people with disabilities become active members of their community through work, and also through community interactions with their neighbors and co-workers,” explained Executive Director Lisa Giraldi.

Giraldi founded PDS 22 years ago to get clients out doing everyday activities.

“Going out for coffee…catching the latest movie, working, going to the bank, things like that,” added Sloan.

It’s all about the types of experiences Giraldi says were denied her favorite aunt – a woman who years ago was institutionalized because of Down Syndrome.

“The reward for me is seeing people improve the quality of their life and seeing them enjoy simple pleasures like getting a paycheck,” Giraldi said.

So an important part of Giraldi’s program is finding part time work for clients like Sallie Harrison, who stocks shelves at the Woodlands Market in Kentfield.

“I have two jobs I love, and I have people who care about me,” Harrison said. “I live in my own place now.”

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“You take them into the real world and put them in a context where they are happy, where they are being included, where they are being treated with dignity and respect,” Giraldi said.

Market manager Glenn DalPorto appreciates the enthusiasm PDS employees bring to the workplace.

“They enjoy coming to work and being useful and being part of the community here in Marin as well as the store community,” DalPorto explained.

Today, Pacific Diversified Services has 27 clients, and for Giraldi, these aren’t short-term relationships, but relationships that can last a lifetime.

At the PDS offices in San Anselmo, Giraldi and her staff of 12 coordinate the weekly logistics of carpooling clients to various activities six hours a day, five days a week.

From classes at College of Marin, to yoga, and trips to the mall – being out in the world builds confidence and life skills. Just ask Robin Sloan’s mother, Patti Stoliar, who brought her daughter to PDS 15 years ago.

“I’ve seen (Robin) become much more independent,” Stoliar said. “Her self advocacy skills have been growing by leaps and bounds.”

Giraldi added, “They are in the community because they belong in the community and they deserve to be there.” They don’t have to earn it – it is just their right as a human being.”

So for her commitment to helping the developmentally disabled become active members in their community, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Lisa Giraldi.

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