A college for special needs adults serves as a forever school

Students here will tell you that being at the College of Adaptive Arts in Saratoga is about belonging. The college was founded by two women who 15 years ago saw a need and decided to fill it.

"We had both seen loved ones, exit out of the traditional public school system at age 22," co-founder Deanna Pursai said. "It's a law that that students have to leave if they're in the special ed system at 22."

"15 years later, we are definitely living a dream that we had in 2009," co-founder Pamela Lindsay said.

The dream in 2009 was higher education for adults with special needs who the education system no longer served, but who still had a desire to learn.

"I am a school nerd, so I love going to school. I love learning new things…I love taking challenges," Victoria Rivera, a student, said.

They started small and had twelve adults and one musical theater class.

"This last semester we have enrolled 229 adults over ten states. And we have our first students zooming in from Lagos, Nigeria to learn…we have 75 course offerings," Pursai said.

The courses are designed by listening to what the students want.

"I like music," Alex Brown, a student said.

 "It's just this opportunity to gain experience in different things," Cathy, another student said.

Classes like YANA which stands for "You Are Not Alone," were proposed by students at CAA. 

Student Brighid Kohl pitched the class and called it an anti-bullying class but says is also, for mental health.

"Anyone can join anyone outside of school, inside the school," Kohl said.

The teaching is with a copyrighted method, and they want to build a model that other colleges can adopt. They recently moved to the West Valley campus.

"Our placement on the West Valley campus is what we have dreamed of, and our students have dreamed of for so long to have equitable placement with all the other college students in the area on a college campus," Lindsay said.

Saratoga, they say, has welcomed CAA with open arms and allowed them to continue to grow with a new workforce development program.

"There’s a lot of nontraditional things that our students can do, jobs maybe that haven't even been created yet, but maybe there's a need that they can fill," Nicole Kim said.

Kim serves as the workforce development coordinator.

Rivera is an apprentice and, as part of her first project, just put on a low-rider car show to raise money for CAA.

"So, it took us a lot. I was like almost like a month, a few months…but it was a good experience," Rivera said. 

Now she dreams of a job as an event planner or teacher’s aide.

For students at CAA, this is about possibilities.

Students like Allison Kennedy told KTVU this is a lifelong space saying she would be "coming here for one nine and a half years." 

This is a place that will never turn them away.

"Undergraduate is like the lowest level degree, but then I can keep coming back for another one," Row Timmerman, a student, said. 

For families, it is a future they weren't sure their loved ones had. 

"[We]deals with 229 families, you know, and they come in, and they look so lonely and so isolated and so disenfranchised. And it's really beautiful to fold them in and say, 'hey, this isn't easy'," Oursai said.

"We all have a connection to the community because my son Deanna, sister, Pamela’s daughter, and my son, and we all get it," Kim said.

"I've been here almost ten years, and I like that. This is a forever school," a student named Curtis said.