Without the Inland Regional Center, Kristine Metcalf doesn't know if her 11-year-old daughter would have ever learned to walk or talk.
Since her birth, Metcalf has used the center's services to help care for her disabled child. Kimie was born premature, blind in her right eye and with cerebral palsy. At age 4, she was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer.
But today, she is a spirited grade schooler who has actually spoken as an ambassador on behalf of the center. Last year, the Inland Regional Center nominated her to light the California state Christmas tree in Sacramento with Gov. Jerry Brown. The state traditionally invites a child with a developmental disability to the ceremony.
"She is the product of Inland Regional Center, she would not be where she is today without it," Metcalf said Wednesday. "She wouldn't be the kid she is today. This is what they are creating, they are giving this kid a second chance to be something, to do something."
The regional nonprofit founded in 1971 provides resources and programs for developmentally disabled children and adults in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. On Wednesday, gunmen targeted the center, killing and wounding dozens of people inside, authorities said.
Metcalf was on edge trying to reach the employees she's worked with there, but couldn't get through. She couldn't understand who would want to hurt the people who have done so much good for her daughter and thousands of other families.
"I can't tell people enough how their services have made a life-changing difference," she said. "The people who work there are amazing. it was really amazing to see and meet everybody."
The day before the shooting, the center hosted its Christmas party, posting a video on its Twitter feed of people in wheelchairs swaying to Kool and the Gang's "Celebration."
Its Twitter and Facebook pages are full of photos and videos of social events for people with disabilities.
The agency and its nearly 700 employees serve as a hub, connecting clients - who range in age from infants to senior citizens - with services they need in order to be more included in the community and live more independent lives.
It is one of 21 regional centers run by nonprofits across California. According to the California Department of Developmental Services, the centers provide a range of services for individuals with disabilities and their families, including counseling and genetic counseling, family support, assessment and diagnosis, referrals to other agencies, early intervention for at-risk infants, training and education, legal and civil rights advocacy, and help connecting with community resources.
Its website was down on Wednesday afternoon, but its Facebook page said that the agency hopes to "help provide each individual with a service system that helps identify and eliminate barriers for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families so they can closely live a typical lifestyle."
One of its services is helping place individuals into supportive housing. The California Housing Foundation, which develops homes for people with disability across the state, has built more than 50 homes serving hundreds of clients of the Inland Regional Center.
"What people should know is that these are the neediest of needy people in our community," said Steve von Rajcs, president of the housing foundation. "I can't imagine why anybody would choose to attack this place. These people are no threat to anybody."
Von Rajcs said that the site attacked is an office building for center staff, and that clients visit only occasionally. He said that it appeared to him that the shooting has taken place in a conference building that the center often leases out to community groups.
The agency is family-oriented. In August, it hosted a day-long conference for fathers to teach them the importance of being more engaged in raising their children.
Metcalf said she still uses the center's "respite services," where a volunteer comes to care for Kimie so that the parent can run errands or get a break from the full-time job of raising a child with disabilities.
A major goal of the agency is to help the disabled children and adults feel accepted.
A 2007 San Bernardino Sun article highlighted a club for disabled adults to come socialize. There are movies, board games, ping pong and pool. Brenda Lopez, identified in the piece as having a learning disability, talked about the sense of community created by the staff.
"We're a big family here," she said. "If something terrible happens, we're there. We're just happy to be around each other."
Alaska Dispatch Publishing