Young people with social anxiety, socially driven depression, spectrum differences, lack of experience, or basic fear of the unknown have felt the need to stay isolated if they are to stay safe. What has been needed is both a safe and welcoming environment outside of parents’ homes where they can test their wings—a place where they can be understood and appreciated by peers of their own. Our Team-Living PODs residence program meets this need.
A small co-ed residence program with double-occupancy rooms, our PODs help young adults move out of their parents’ homes, often for the very first time. Launching from a parent’s home and living with peers who understand their needs and challenges is critical if young people are to take that important next step toward a fuller, more independent life. The PODS are designed to enhance their abilities to make and to feel deserving of friends, roommates, partners and companions.
We have a high staff-to-student ratio, and our residents—affectionately known to one another as “PODsters”—develop their own goals with the help of staff. Goals may include filling out six job applications within the next three weeks or studying for two hours after anthropology class. We also trust that our PODsters will learn to look outside of themselves to the greater good, will make themselves useful to others and, along the way, grow in self-esteem. We also hope to educate the world at large about the needs of our very special young people, so that those young people will widely receive the kinds of accommodations that others with disabilities now receive.
As well as being 18 and over, what makes a good PODster candidate?
Ideally, a PODster candidate should be:
• Motivated to succeed
• Willing to participate regularly in group activities
• Willing to consider academic and employment goals
• Able to accept mentoring in hygiene, grooming, living skills, with the goal of developing good habits
• Capable of self-managing prescription medications
• Willing to follow the house rules (no smoking, alcohol, or drugs)
• Aware of how supported accommodations serve as tools that are useful and necessary to moving towards achieving goals
Please note that all incoming residents need to have a thorough evaluation period with multi-layered assessments in order to determine if there is a “good fit” within the POD community.
What is POD life like?
Two dinners are provided each week, with the remainder of meals purchased and prepared by the PODsters themselves. Our focus is on healthy eating, nutritional support, and exercise. Residents are provided regular transportation to Orinda Village, where they can shop for groceries. Transportation is also provided to and from. BART and other public transportation.
Aspen Network provides ongoing multiple groups:
• Community Meeting (a working group about living together)
• Process Group (facilitated by staff and residents to discuss feelings, issues, etc.)
• Cooking Night (residents take turns cooking for the POD)
• Weekly Social Group (with POD residents and other young adults who live outside of the POD)
• Small group discussions in Social Group may include:
– Bullying, hurt feelings, being considered a little “different”
– Social anxiety
– Conversations and how they work
– Making new friendships and maintaining them
– Women’s issues
– Family issues
– Addiction (video-gaming and otherwise)
Aspen Network provides ongoing training in basic life skills. Grocery shopping and cooking lessons are available, and laundry training as needed. Wells Fargo employees have visited and discussed money management. Residents also learn about sex education, communications skills, and how to become more “employable and enjoyable.” Life in the PODs is not only about readiness and steps towards school work, employment, and chores. PODsters plan two leisure trips each month, including such activities as a visit to the Santa Cruz boardwalk, movie night, and an afternoon at Pier 39 in San Francisco.
What about educational or vocational support?
Many of our students come to us needing support as they try to navigate college courses, both academic and vocational, or develop the skills necessary to hold a job. We help them establish social, academic, and employment goals. Although we do not guarantee school success or employment, Aspen Network has long-standing relationships and familiarity with Diablo Valley College and the vocational programs at Laney College. Aspen Network can also set up an initial appointment with the Department of Rehabilitation, can assist students in getting aptitude testing and help with resumes and job applications. Additional coaching and support can be provided on a fee-based system.
Residents often discover interests and abilities as they assist with work around the POD. Several PODsters have discovered they can do carpentry, use power tools, build with sheet rock, and paint. We are always observing our young people to help them take that next step to success.
All PODsters are strongly encouraged to:
• Take one to two college-level courses each semester (academic or vocational)
• At the beginning of the school year, take campus tours with staff
• Set goals for the semester, in terms of study times and study techniques
• Access their student support centers for accommodations, when necessary
• Access the free reading, writing, and math labs available at the colleges
• Observe POD quiet hours for study and participate in homework checks
• Work in cooperation with parent-provided tutors
• Find part-time employment
Many young adults we meet have had resistance to accessing and using accommodations. We believe that accommodations are deserved, fair, important and useful, rather than viewing them as special favors or treatment. Understanding how to use accommodations is an extremely high priority for our residents’ lifetime. We find that when young people begin to experience success they become more willing to accept help and experience a synergistic approval in life from their peers and support staff in the POD.
How do we measure success?
We are seeing remarkable changes in our PODsters: They are forming deep friendships, which many have never experienced. They are now relating more to members of the opposite sex. They are creating and following schedules, are improving their study skills, and are planning and enjoying many more social activities. They are cooking regularly for themselves and others. They are having academic, vocational, and volunteer work success. Overall they show signs of being happier, more self-confident, and more at ease with themselves.
If this program sounds interesting to you, perhaps POD living might be a good next step. You can submit an application for Team Living PODs, and contact us for an initial assessment.