- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 13, 2005

Annabell Pounds quietly pushed her cart through the Alexandria consulting firm, stocking office kitchens with sodas and greeting co-workers during her four-hour shift.

For Mrs. Pounds, who is mentally disabled, the task gives her an opportunity to provide for her family and live an independent, successful life.

“I have a child and a family and have been married for three years,” said Mrs. Pounds, 42, of Suitland. “I need to do stuff for my husband.”

Mrs. Pounds is one of more than 200 students and clients of St. Coletta of Greater Washington Inc., a nonprofit based at 207 S. Peyton St., Alexandria, that operates a school and day programs for those afflicted with autism and other mental disabilities.

The organization, founded in Arlington in 1959, is constructing a public charter school in the District, at 19th Street and Independence Avenue in Southeast. It will open in September.

The $7 million, state-of-the-art school will be one of only a few charter schools in the United States serving those diagnosed with mental disabilities and certain health impairments.

The school will offer academic and vocational training for students ages 3 to 22, conforming with St. Coletta’s goal of moving its members toward independent living.

“The overarching theme is independence,” said Rebecca Hill, director of development at St. Coletta. “For some people, that might mean learning how to brush their teeth by themselves. For another, it might mean riding the Metro by themselves.”

For Mrs. Pounds, St. Coletta offers a way to exceed society’s expectations for a mentally disabled person. A van brings her daily to the school’s adult program center. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, she takes the bus on her own to her job at Robbins-Gioia LLC.

“At first I was a little scared to take the bus,” Mrs. Pounds said. “Now I’m not because I know where to get off and everything.”

Mrs. Pounds’ 16-year-old son, Kenneth, attends school at St. Coletta and lives with Mrs. Pounds’ mother in the District. Mrs. Pounds’ husband, Willie, 46, works in maintenance and participates in the adult programs at St. Coletta.

The Poundses met at another school. When asked why the two married, Mrs. Pounds rolled her eyes and shyly shrugged her shoulders. “I wanted to get married,” she said. “He asked me in front of everybody at work.”

St. Coletta places workers at 22 job sites in the District and Virginia.

While Mrs. Pounds stocks supplies and shreds documents for Robbins-Gioia, others work in restaurants, sort mail at the Department of Labor or clean the grounds of Wolf Trap in Vienna, Va.

“There’s no other program I’ve seen exactly like this one,” said Amber Badgley, adult program administrator at St. Coletta. “We try to make it really independent. If they don’t want to do mailing, they don’t have to.”

Mrs. Pounds said she is grateful for the opportunities St. Coletta provides.

“When I don’t have a job, all I do is eat and sleep and become lazy,” she said. “It gives me a lot to do.”

St. Coletta contracts with local school districts that pay the tuition for the school’s students. The adult day program is funded by Medicaid, and the organization relies on donations to meet operating expenses.

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