Zulma Mena Brings Experience Helping Students Transition to Adulthood to Lanterman’s Board
For over 15 years, Zulma Mena has devoted her time and energy to helping students with special needs prepare for and transition to the adult world, through her work at the Center for Advanced Transition Skills (CATS) at West Los Angeles College, one of several such centers that are part of a unique partnership between the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Los Angeles Community College District.
Mena is also the mother, of 8-year-old Freddy, who was diagnosed with autism at age 4. She shares: “After Freddy was diagnosed, I did everything I could to learn as much about autism and how to best support my son. I also felt it was important to share this information with other families, and I trained to become one of Lanterman’s peer support partners.”
As a peer support partner, Mena provides support to a small number of families during the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process; and she co-facilitates the monthly De Mi Familia A Su Familia Spanish-language support group for families of children with autism. And prior to the birth of her daughter, who will soon be 2, she used to help the Center make welcome phone calls to new families.
She adds: “One area of concern for me is that there are not a lot of prospects for young adults with more involved special needs as far as opportunities after high school. While the CATS program teaches them skills and helps them prepare for life after high school, it is still very challenging to find places of employment willing to hire many of our students.”
Another area that Mena would like to focus on is building community capacity to support children with autism by ensuring that people are better trained and supported to work with children with special needs. “We as parents need to be concerned with ensuring the quality of services our children are receiving by being actively involved,” she shares.
A lifelong resident of Los Angeles, Mena has been married to her husband for 15 years, and also works as office manager for the Physical Education department at West Los Angeles College.