Village News Editor
A grand opening celebration was held Friday, April 28 in Pala for Acorns to Oak Trees, a nonprofit organization with the mission to improve the lives of Native children with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), their families, and their tribal communities.
Founders Season and James Goodpasture welcomed nearly 150 guests to the organization's location on their ranch for a dedication and fundraising event.
A welcome and blessing ceremony was conducted by board member Wayne Nelson and the Bird Singers.
Speakers included Supervisor Joel Anderson who presented a joint proclamation (with Supervisor Jim Desmond represented by Adrienne Cisneros-Selekman) while Assemblymember Marie Waldron's representative Hayden Yantha presented a joint resolution (with Senator Brian Jones represented by Andrew Hayes) recognizing Acorns to Oak Trees; Waldron's district includes all 18 of San Diego County's tribes.
Two videos were shown on "Harley's Hope Project" the story of how the Goodpastures' daughter Harley, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder, inspired the creation of Acorns to Oak Trees. Through her mother's quest to find help for Harley, the need for outreach to Native American families and tribal communities was recognized.
Season Goodpasture first took Harley to Rady's Children's for physical therapy where she was asked if Harley had been evaluated at the Regional Center; it was the first time she had heard of it. After having Harley evaluated through the Regional Center and her receiving Early Start services for a year, the changes in her were phenomenal, Goodpasture said.
According to Goodpasture, after she shared Harley's story with the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) and advocated for better outreach efforts to tribes in 2021, DDS started their first Tribal Early Start Outreach program in 2022 to better serve Native families. The department is now dedicating $500,000 a year in their budget which is focused on improving Regional Center outreach to tribes across the state.
Season Goodpasture is a marriage and family therapist, Maidu and Paiute and a member of the Susanville Indian Rancheria in Northern California. She thanked Chairman Robert Smith for helping her get her start, working for the Pala Band of Mission Indians, serving as the Director of Social Services for almost 10 years.
Season's husband, James Goodpasture, is Cupeno and he and their four children (Harley, Huntley, Holley, and Hudson) are members of the Pala Band of Mission Indians.
Acorns to Oak Trees is the first Native organization to be vendored in the U.S. to provide services to families with IDD and has developed the first Native American Community Navigator Program which provides support to all Native families across the state, needing assistance accessing Regional Center and IEP services.
Referring to his daughter Harley, James Goodpasture said, "She doesn't need to be fixed; we just need to adjust to her world." His wife said, "Harley has been a blessing in what she has taught me in life." She also pointed out that four out of ten Native American children have IDD.
When Season spoke about her first meeting with Director Bargmann and the Chief Equity Officer of DDS, she said it just took a handful of moms to talk about what their kids needed and the entire policy was written as a result. In addition to education and outreach, one of the other main goals of the organization is to provide therapeutic services in a culturally tailored and sensitive way and bring the services to all reservations one day.
Through Acorns to Oak Trees, some of those services are being provided including early intervention, behavioral therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and more which is critical for many tribal communities as access to these services are hard to come by given their remote locations.
To recognize the people who have helped make these programs a reality, Village Awards were presented to the following people: DDS Director Nancy Bargmann and Chief Equity Officer Leinani Walters, San Diego Regional Center Executive Director Mark Klaus, Chairman Robert Smith, Director of Indian Health Services Beverly Miller, and Assemblymember James C. Ramos (45th District) who is requesting $25 million for an inclusive Montessori school Acorns to Oak Trees hopes to develop for Native American children, particularly those with autism, from the California Budget Committee.
Other Village Awards were presented to the Indian Health Council, Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel and the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation for their support of Acorns to Oak Trees and helping their organization grow. A raffle and silent auction were held and donations were collected to further develop the programs that Acorns to Oak Trees will offer in the future.
According to Season, Acorns to Oak Trees is a program that is not exclusive to Native families and is inclusive and available to all families.
Goodpasture concluded the evening by saying, "Harley has taught me to not take anything for granted and changed my outlook on what is a meaningful life. What we do here will outlive all of us."