SOLANA BEACH — When Nydia Abney heard about the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, she laid blame at the foot of Nancy Lanza, mother of alleged shooter Adam Lanza who was reported to be autistic. “At 20 years of age, Adam shouldn’t be living under his mother,” she explained. “She was rigid and controlling. He was frustrated and in despair. People like Adam go to school and are teased. They see themselves as incapable and, instead of complaining, they suffer quietly.”Abney said she went through a similar experience with her own son, Eric.“When he went to high school the bullies would take his backpack and throw it,” she said. “They were hitting and throwing things at him until he was bleeding. I’d say, ‘Forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.’”
Abney’s search for a treatment took her to Europe where she studied programs at Vidar Klinik in Sweden, and Parkhill Atwood and Camphill Communities in Great Britain, which combine alternative therapies such as massage with art, music and dance to enable people who are developmentally challenged to live, learn and work together.
In 1984 Abney founded Project Turnaround to bring the therapies she learned overseas back here to help those with challenges such as autism and Down’s syndrome.
Abney’s son, who was withdrawn and unable to speak, acquired a love of the arts, and even public speaking through participation in Toastmasters, that eventually made it possible for him to get hired and hold down a job.
“When he was young, psychologists wanted to put him in an institution and now he is almost fully independent,” she said. “There are 25,000 developmentally challenged people in San Diego. The challenge is to help them become members of society.”
In 2004, Abney opened Nardo House, a residential program which provided instruction in dance, theater, art and life skills (cooking, money management) to empower participants in what she named the “Pioneers Club.”
The program continued until 2011 when the house was sold. With no option other than to move into an apartment, Abney tried to continue the program by meeting members of the Pioneers Club in public places such as the library.
That didn’t work out. The combination of not having a meeting place, and gradual loss of her eyesight, forced her to temporarily halt the program.
Today, after recovering from cataract surgery, she is looking for a house so that she can continue the program with the long-term goal of building an EcoVillage which would be comprised of artists and other members of the community who want to join forces with Project Turnaround.
Among her supporters is architect Drew Hubbell.
“About three years ago I attended a play at Project Turnaround and the joy and camaraderie were wonderful,” he recalled. “Before the performance, you saw blank faces.
During and after the performance, participants’ faces lit up and something inside of them changed. I think Nydia opened that possibility.”
Hubbell credits Abney with addressing a problem few others are willing to take on.
“Typically, the developmentally challenged will live with their parents until their parents are gone and then they will be watched by the state,” he said. “Nydia is similar to Mother Teresa with her qualities of caring and compassion. If people can help out and get involved, it’s a very worthwhile project.”
Hubbell compares Project Turnaround with America’s Foundation founded by his father, James T. Hubbell, which works with volunteers to build elementary, middle and high schools in Tijuana.
“There is a sense of value that a place of art has in changing their lives as well,” Drew Hubbell said. “Instead of a little shack, children are in a beautiful building with stained glass that gives them a sense of beauty and worth.”
Presently, Abney is seeking investors to help her acquire a residence. Her proposal includes the provision that principal would be paid back with interest.
“We need a house that is a fixer upper that would provide a way to learn social skills and where they would be supported,” she said. “If it’s big enough, we can have candle making, art, music and dancing.”
For more information, or to make a donation, contact Abney at (858) 481-3998.