WALNUT CREEK -- The New Horizons program has been around for about 30 years, yet it remains relatively obscure, for various reasons.
"We're not trying to keep it a secret," said Preston Jones, the coordinator of Walnut Creek's Specialized Recreation program and overseer of the New Horizons program that provides various fitness, recreation, social and leisure activities for developmentally disabled children and adults, and those on the autistic spectrum.
"In the special-needs community, most of it is word-of-mouth," Jones said. "It's a tight-knit group."
And now he is looking farther afield for some financial help -- private contributions, primarily -- to help keep the program affordable for its users.
Despite the low profile, New Horizons' programs almost always fill up, and Jones said there are waiting lists for most of them. More than 700 people participated in the 2011-2012 program last winter, and at least that many are expected again this year with registration now open, Jones said.
Activities range from karate and cardio fitness, the "Wednesday Dinner Club" that features planned outings to restaurants including La Fogata Mexican and Dragon 2000 Chinese food in Walnut Creek. Also available: Saturday trips to the Oakland Zoo and Chabot Space Center, among other places, and monthly Friday Night Dances in December, January and February.
Though it is a City of Walnut Creek program, New Horizons participants come
"This program has gotten to the point where it's more of a regional thing," Jones said.
Jones said similar program exist in other area cities, including San Ramon and Livermore. But programs in other cities have suffered with municipal budget cuts over the past several years. And Jones said the City of Concord is part of New Horizons' monthly Friday Night Dance program, hosting the dances on alternate months.
Walnut Creek has an advantage, he said, in that the city makes available two 15-passenger vans to help get participants to various activities both within Walnut Creek and farther away. Essentially, the city subsidizes transportation and staff costs.
But the city's arts, recreation and community services budgets under which New Horizons falls have taken their own budget hits, Jones said. User fees help keep the program afloat -- examples include $53 for a 10-week karate program, $38 for a Wednesday Dinner Club outing and $6 at the door for the Friday Night Dances (transportation isn't provided for those).
But those only cover 30 percent of the program's costs, and Jones recently sent out a letter asking for donations.
"We want to help keep the program affordable, because what we do is important work," Jones said.
For more information about this program, or about making financial contributions, contact Preston Jones, Walnut Creek's specialized recreation program coordinator, at 925-256-3531 or at JonesP@walnut-creek.org