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Regional center hosts no ordinary crafts fair

Regional center hosts no ordinary crafts fair

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AMERICAN CANYON — Crafts fairs are a mainstay of the holiday season. But there is one in Napa County that’s a little different, and special in its own right.

The North Bay Regional Center has quietly been putting on a crafts fair for nearly two decades out off North Kelly Road, selling everything from Christmas cards to jewelry to artwork to even organic farm-fresh eggs.

Everything for sale was made or produced by individuals who are developmentally disabled.

“We decided since they create these things during their day programs, they needed some place to sell it,” said Kimberly Dowling, who has been organizing the regional center’s crafts fair since it began in the 1990s.

“So we started with two or three tables and word got out, then we had five tables, then 10,” said Dowling.

This year’s fair had two dozen organizations from Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties that support the developmentally disabled. The place was packed, with some groups setting up in the hallway because there wasn’t enough space in the large meeting room for everyone attending the fair.

The fair is a good idea for multiple reasons, Dowling said.

“It gives them a little money in their pocket,” said Dowling. “They keep all the money they make. They love it. They wait all year for it. I get calls in June asking if we’re still doing it.”

For some individuals, like Kelly Crawford, the fair gave her a chance to experience something she hadn’t before with her artwork: a sale.

Crawford’s paintings were on display along with those of other clients of Moving Forward, a residential program in Napa that offers transitional and independent living support to adults with autism as well as developmental and learning disabilities.

The painting she sold was a mix of both Halloween and Christmas, featuring skulls as well as the holiday colors of red and green.

“I call it, ‘Oh Skully Night,’” said Crawford, 26. “Skulls are cool.”

She said it felt “good” to sell her first painting.

Artists, no matter their background, enjoy the validation that comes from knowing someone likes their work.

Another table featured the artwork of Jennifer Hill on cards and other creations. Hill is a client of Community Connections, whose Napa office serves about a hundred developmentally disabled individuals, according to Justine Aranda, Hill’s counselor.

“Art is her passion,” Aranda said of Hill, 43, who has been drawing since she was a child. Her paintings have been shown at local galleries.

Hill agreed that she is passionate about art. “I love to dance and sing, too,” she said before bursting into song from the animated movie “Madagascar.”

“I like to move it move it! I like to move it move it!” Hill sang.

Aranda smiled at her client, with whom she has worked for three years. “We have a lot of fun,” she said.

In addition to crafts, shoppers could buy organic eggs sold by Randy and Tye McGrath.

The 27-year-old twins run their own farm-based business in Napa with help from the nonprofit Options3 Inc., which offers supported living services to the developmentally disabled.

“It’s a start-to-finish business,” said Laura Saunders from Options3.

“Their business is important because Tye and Randy are developmentally disabled,” Saunders said. “They are not going to fit into somebody else’s box or mold of a job. To create a job of their own is really great. They can feel valued, they can feel more self-worth, they contribute to the society and the community they live in.”

The McGraths got a small loan to start their business, enabling them to build a chicken coop and buy the chickens that produce the eggs they sell.

“They care for the chickens, feed them, collect the eggs, package, sell and deliver them to customers,” said Saunders.

The McGraths live on the farm and “treat the chickens like pets,” she added. “They love them. They’re like chicken whisperers. A chicken can be running away and they can go near it and it will let them pick it up. It’s really amazing.”

The holiday spirit at the crafts fair was abundant, complete with Christmas carolers and glowing remarks from longtime participants.

Rowling’s mother, Joan Reading, has been coming every year to it. But she doesn’t attend just because it is one of her daughter’s favorite job activities.

“This is one of the most joyful things we go to at Christmas,” said Reading, a resident of Benicia. “You look around at all the commercialism, but this puts a whole new perspective on the holiday. The people who work here and work with these people are wonderful.”

“You leave here feeling wonderful,” she added.

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