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WHITTIER : Center Helps Disabled Be Self-Sufficient


John Litman's afternoon rock 'n' roll break will have to wait. For the next half-hour he will be busy, under the watchful eye of his trainer, preparing turkey sandwiches for the next two days' lunches.

Twice a week, Litman, who is mentally retarded, is visited by his life-skills trainer, Jennifer Walker. Litman, 33, turns down his stereo, heads straight for the kitchen and begins pulling vegetables from the refrigerator. His four sandwiches look like a garden salad between bread, with only a paper-thin piece of turkey hidden under cucumbers.

"One of his goals last year was to lose weight," said Walker, who has worked with Litman for more than a year. Litman also wanted to start saving money, and he opened a savings account.

Other than planning, Litman needs little help these days. Since high school, he has become more and more self-sufficient with the aid of the Career Assessment Placement Center in Whittier, which teaches mentally and physically disabled adults job and living skills.

He lives in an apartment with another disabled adult, is engaged to a woman he met in the program, has been employed at the same job for five years and comes and goes as he pleases on Whittier buses.

Dan Hulbert, the center's director, said the program, which receives about $1.6 million a year in state funds and grants, begins serving clients when they are in high school and helps them throughout their adult lives. Most similar programs help clients during school or during the transition to independent living, but don't have the continuity of the Placement Center, he said.

Litman was one of the first to go through the center's three-phase program, beginning in 1981. He learned to work in a restaurant, busing tables and stocking supplies. After high school, he learned "societal survival skills" such as how to read a bus route and shop for groceries. This part of the program usually lasts until the student turns 22.

In the third phase, disabled adults are assigned an independent-living trainer and a job coach, who works side by side with a disabled adult.

The program matches the clients with volunteer organizations and employers.

Susan Hartley, the center's job placement specialist, helps the center's 90 clients find jobs stocking warehouses, preparing fast food and working as cashiers in Santa Fe Springs, Whittier and Pico Rivera.

Litman works at Polly's Pies in Whittier, where he cleans and boxes pie tins and tidies up work areas from 8 to 11 a.m. He is paid $4.35 an hour. His coach, Cynthia Poe, stops by just twice a month to check his progress with the store's supervisor, Robert Hoffman. Litman is never late and does an excellent job, Hoffman said.

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