VALLEY CHARITIES: AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE : Homes Give Beleaguered Clients TLC

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

These are the clients few others can care for.

The least disabled of them are blind and mentally retarded. Others are also deaf, or suffer emotional problems, or seizures. Many endure a laundry list of ailments with which other special care facilities can't cope.

So, they come to the Therapeutic Living Centers for the Blind, or TLC, as the homes are commonly known.

"We're the square peg in the round hole," Executive Director Lynn Robinson said. "We don't fit in."

For most of the 50 or so adults who live in the seven TLC group homes around the San Fernando Valley, this is about the only place where they do fit in.

Holding a radio and occasionally flinging his arms wildly and uncontrollably, twentysomething Chris was headed home for the Thanksgiving holiday. And he wasn't happy.

"I want to stay here," he said.

Like many Southland nonprofit groups, TLC has had a tough couple of years. First, the economy took a dive. Then, the earth shook.

Many charities were forgotten in the harried aftermath of the Northridge earthquake--when potential donors had their own worries--but TLC was not just among the forgotten, it was also among the shaken. All seven of its group homes suffered damage in the quake: cracked walls, split floors and toppled air-conditioning units, to the tune of $150,000.

That's big money to an organization operating on an annual budget of just $1.7 million, Robinson said. And to make matters worse, the quake damage kept the group from holding its annual fund-raiser, which typically brings in as much as $60,000.

Government funds, which account for 80% of TLC's total budget, have also been slowly diminishing. So far this year, revenues are down 7% to 10%, and the group is treading financial water.

"Usually what we do in terms of fund-raising is to develop new programs, to go forward," Robinson said. "In this case, we need to go back, make repairs . . . fix what is broken. Our community is in bad shape and so were we."

While some charities have found success in recent years with modern and massive advertising campaigns, that's a difficult route for TLC, Robinson said, as the clients are not made-for-television poster children.

Some have sunken, clouded eyes and unintelligible voices. Others rock violently for hours on end. Still others wear makeshift crash helmets to keep from injuring themselves. About 40% have spent time in state mental institutions.

So the group's holiday mailer is direct, saying in essence, "We really need your help."

Robinson is optimistic, believing people will respond. They certainly would after seeing what happens in these homes, she said, after meeting people like Bob.

Blind and retarded, the tall, middle-aged man spent 20 years sitting on his bed in a Northern California group home.

Here, he goes to the opera, learns to toss salad, sings karaoke. And, occasionally, he smiles.

Donations can be sent to Therapeutic Learning Centers for the Blind, 7955 Lindley Ave., Reseda, CA 91335.

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