Avenues SLS distributing food to people they support. Photo courtesy Natalie Cavaretta/Avenue SLS.

Founded by Lori and Scott Shepard in 1997, Avenues Supported Living Services is a nonprofit that specializes in helping people with intellectual and developmental disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy, and down syndrome gain their independence while contributing to the Santa Clarita community. In addition, most of the people Avenues supports are below the poverty line, on social security or in Section 8 housing.

Despite the struggles of its constituents, Avenues and its volunteers have successfully changed the lives of 27 disabled people with some working full-time and part-time jobs in Santa Clarita.

For the last couple of years, Avenues has been running a campaign entitled “Fuel for Volunteers,” aiming towards donating money to help with expenses for the volunteers that are crucial to Avenues’ success.

Natalie Cavaretta, Director of Development at Avenues SLS, is one example of the passion and generosity that the Santa Clarita based organization has been exhibiting since its founding.

“I think I’ve spent, like, literally I’m a salaried employee and I, I donate probably, oh, a little too much on campaigns myself where I, where Lori (Shepard) has said, you got to stop doing that,” said Cavaretta.

“The city of Santa Clarita gave us a grant two years ago for our food distribution center, which was amazing because we were able to buy an industrial refrigerator and freezer,” Cavaretta explained. “Then we got another grant to purchase the food at a dirt-cheap price… those are things that we wouldn’t be able to do if we were not fundraising and we weren’t getting grants.”

With COVID-19 affecting all businesses, this year is as important as ever. Lori Shepard, Founder and Director of Operations at Avenues SLS, was not discouraged about COVID-19 and its difficulties. 

“Our biggest challenges have been around funding for needed support and making changes from in-person fundraising and training events to virtual events,” Shepard stated. “However, we did not let COVID define our goals and dreams for 2020 and beyond.”

Founder Scott Shepard (right) and Tracy “Buddy” Whitehorse (left), a client of Avenues SLS. Photo courtesy Natalie Cavaretta/Avenues SLS.

Avenues has had to make swift adjustments during COVID-19, such as a live bowling tournament that was converted into a Nintendo Wii bowling tournament paired with a Facebook live event. The tournament reportedly only brought in a third of what would normally be made.

Without fundraising, nonprofits like Avenues would rely on state support alone, which might result in a lack of simple things like a new pillow, a jacket, and basic home goods for the people Avenues helps.

To help combat these struggles, Avenues started a “Fall Clothing Drive” this year. Clothes of all types and sizes can be donated and even some that are slightly ripped, torn, or soiled.

When talking about the job of sorting through hundreds of donated clothes, Cavaretta could not hide her joy.

“We’ve got a 20 foot by 30 foot room full of bagged clothes…And I took on that role. I told Lori, I said, I’ll come in every day after 2:30, I’ll sort through them…those bags are like a hundred pounds when people shove stuff in there, but it’s been so worth it (and) so rewarding,” Cavaretta exclaimed. “There’s nothing more gratifying than giving and knowing that you’re helping someone.”

One of several piles of donated clothes as part of Avenues’ Fall Clothing Drive. Photo courtesy Natalie Cavaretta

Avenues is asking people to donate money for their volunteers as part of “Giving Tuesday” on Dec. 1 and is still taking clothes donations as part of their Fall Clothing Drive until Dec 4.

Clothes can be dropped off at Avenue SLS on 28415 Industry Drive, Suite 502 in Valencia. For more information about the Fall Clothing Drive, Fuel for Volunteers, and Avenues SLS, visit their website at https://avenuessls.org/ or check out their Facebook and YouTube pages.

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