LOS ANGELES, March 13, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Dignitaries, elected officials, community leaders, child advocates, nationally-recognized experts on equity, child advocates and parents came out in full force on March 4, 2023 to show support for the launch of Special Needs Network’s (SNN) new workforce development program – that is, Creating Opportunities and Resources for Equity in Early Intervention (C.O.R.E.). SNN, founded by civil rights attorney and child advocate Areva Martin, celebrated the first class of C.O.R.E. fellows with an orientation and grand opening of its new office, located in the historic West Adams District of Los Angeles. In addition, SNN also opened a second location in Bakersfield to support the ongoing work of the C.O.R.E. program. The inaugural class of 200 fellows consists of college students, recent graduates and clinicians from BIPOC communities recruited to address the critical shortage of diverse professionals serving children with autism and other developmental disabilities.

“We have a really significant need to make sure that our workforce is representing the diversity of the children and the families that we serve,” said Nancy Bargmann, director of the California Department of Developmental Services. DDS is a $12.4 billion dollar plus agency responsible for providing services and support to more than 350,000 Californians with developmental disabilities. “When I walked into the orientation, I actually got goosebumps seeing what Special Needs Network was able to pull off. It feels like it was yesterday when I called Areva and Melinda Sullivan (executive director of Frank D. Lanterman Regional Center), and Michi Gates(executive director of Kern Regional Center), and they all started thinking, what are the possibilities?” Bargmann continues, “I really want to thank Areva and her team, and all of the initial fellows for the commitment they are making to support individuals in California who have an intellectual developmental disability.”

“The confidence that Nancy and her team have shown in me and Special Needs Network is humbling. Her presence at the C.O.R.E. orientation and open house affirmed DDS’s commitment to children, families and clinicians of color,” said Martin, founder and CEO of SNN. “The outpouring of support at the open house reflects an awareness that C.O.R.E. is rewriting the script on how we respond to issues of social justice and disability rights. We are creating new structures for service delivery, from the ground up, that are developed through a lens of equity and anti-racist practices. Witnessing the leadership and expertise gathered in the room with a new generation of BIPOC providers was an extraordinary moment.”

DDS, in conjunction with the 21 private nonprofit regional centers located throughout the state, is charged with providing Californians with developmental disabilities the opportunity to make choices and lead independent, productive lives as members of their communities.

Along with Bargmann, others in attendance at the orientation and open house included representatives from the offices of Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, U.S. Congresswoman Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Los Angeles), State Senator Steve Bradford (D-Gardena) and State Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas (D-Los Angeles). Plus, CaliforniaAssemblymember Isaac Bryan (D-Los Angeles) of District 55 provided welcome remarks and encouraged the C.O.R.E. fellows to heed the call to be leaders and cherish the opportunity to be of service to children with disabilities as he shared anecdotes about two adopted siblings with developmental disabilities.

Dr. Shaun R. Harper, one of the most highly-respected racial equity experts in the nation and founder and executive director of the USC Race and Equity Center, addressed the fellows and expressed that he was “elated to be working in partnership with Special Needs Network to address issues of implicit bias and structural racism.” He will be delivering 50 hours of comprehensive training and USC certification. Dr. Harper also serves as the provost professor at the Rossier School of Education and the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California (USC).

C.O.R.E. is designed to increase the pool of BIPOC providers working as interventionists and therapists in regional-center-contracted early start agencies in Los Angeles and Kern counties. The program is applying outcome-based solutions to a critical shortage of providers of color among behavioral and allied health practitioners.