PI Walk 2020 Sponsor
A Special Thank you

Project Independence helps people with developmental
disabilities find jobs, develop friendships, and live independently.


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An Access 2 Adventure Thanksgiving

Twenty-five Project Independence staff and clients gathered at the Hometown Buffet in Anaheim to put the “Thanks” in Thanksgiving this season. Through a generous grant to the Access 2 Adventure Program at Project Independence from the Louis & Gladyce Foster Family Foundation, the group got together for a wonderful feast,  much-needed laughter, and friendship.  “ I was going to sit at home and watch TV alone, but my friends at Project Independence invited me to have a real Thanksgiving,” said Donna Bugbee, a Project Independence client of over 30 years. Well said, Donna.   

OC Marathon Water Station

Thank you to all the volunteers who helped man our water station at the OC Marathon on November 7th! And thank you to or sponsors Union Bank (sponsored Project Independence’s water station at Castaway Park) and Team Rubicon and the OCMarathon!

Robert Watson Named CEO of Nonprofit Project Independence

Stepping up from his role as associate director at PI, Watson will replace current CEO Debra Marsteller, who is retiring after 40 years. Posted Wed, Sep 22, 2021 at 12:13 pm PT| Dan Pittman The volunteer Board of Directors of nonprofit Project Independence (PI) has named Robert Watson, a seasoned professional with many years of experience working with adults with developmental disabilities, the Costa Mesa-based organization’s new chief executive officer, effective October 29. Stepping up from his role as associate director at PI, he replaces current CEO Debra Marsteller, who is retiring after helming the organization for nearly 40 years. In 2007, after 26 years leading former Vantage Foundation and building the first integrated work supports system for people with the most complex lives, Marsteller joined with Watson in conducting a successful merger with Project Independence that seamlessly blended the two programs into one, keeping the focus on those served while promoting independence and choice. While serving as associate director at Project Independence, Watson has also been a member of the Regional Center of Orange County (RCOC) Board of Directors. He has chaired the RCOC’s Behavior Programs on the Vendor Advisory Committee (VAC). During his time on the Board, he testified before a legislative subcommittee advocating for rights of individuals. Watson joined Vantage in 1994 as a job coach while attending graduate school at Cal State Fullerton. He quickly rose to area manager, then regional director where he was responsible for growing the partially site-based day program. He was instrumental in transitioning Vantage Foundation into a totally community-based program with an emphasis on employment for individuals with developmental disabilities. “I am humbled and honored by the Board’s decision and their vote of confidence,” said Watson. “I look forward to continuing, along with our committed and passionate employees, the mission and vision of Project Independence during this transformational time in our industry. Together, we will continue to promote civil rights for people with developmental disabilities through services which expand freedom and choice.” “We are delighted to elevate Bob to the CEO role and know his experience and enthusiasm will guide Project Independence to new heights as we serve our community’s adults with developmental disabilities,” said Board Chair Dan Pittman. “We also want to celebrate Debra’s longtime service as the leader of the organization. She has been a tireless advocate, trainer, mentor, and enthusiastic supporter of people with developmental disabilities for more than 40 years,” he said. Project Independence has more than four decades of service and stability in Orange County as a lifeline to adults with developmental disabilities. Eighty-seven cents of every dollar raised by Project Independence goes directly to support vital programs for people with developmental disabilities.      

Project Independence Clients Paddle An Outrigger For Independence

Adults with developmental disabilities take to the water at Newport Aquatic Center via Project Independence’s Access 2 Adventure program By Dan Pittman, Neighbor Nonprofit Project Independence’s Access to Adventure (A2A) program for its clients with developmental disabilities has returned with outdoor adventures and activities. Recently, a group from the Costa Mesa-based organization gathered at Newport Aquatic Center to paddle an outrigger with the MAKAPO Aquatics Project, as the Polynesian sport of outrigger paddling can be enjoyed with no special adaptations needed to the equipment. The Project was founded in 2007 to meet the recreational needs of the blind community in Orange County and beyond. “We are happy to provide this recreational outlet for our clients who have been isolating at home through the pandemic and can now challenge themselves and have fun outdoors,” said Project Independence CEO and President Debra Marsteller. Also on the A2A calendar are a beach day BBQ, a trip to Catalina, and monthly Duffy boat cruises through the harbor. A highlight will be Project Independence’s 12th Annual Walk for Independence that kicks off National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The Walk is set for Saturday, October 2, 2021 in Costa Mesa’s Twinkle Park. Project Independence’s Access 2 Adventure Program is made possible in part through a generous gift from the Louis & Gladyce Foster Family Foundation. Project Independence has more than four decades of service and stability in Orange County as a lifeline to adults with developmental disabilities. Eighty-seven cents of every dollar raised by Project Independence goes directly to support vital programs for people with developmental disabilities. To become a 2021 walk sponsor, please contact Director of Development Todd Eckert at Todd@Proindependence.org or 714-549-3464.

Project Independence’s “Empowering Possibilities” Giving Day

24-Hour Fundraiser May 20 Seeks to Raise $100K For Nonprofit Programs and Services for People Living with Disabilities in Orange County Costa Mesa, Calif. (May 6 2021) — Project Independence and nine aligned nonprofits will partner with the Orange County Community Foundation (OCCF) on May 20 for Empowering Possibilities, a collaborative Giving Day to support people with disabilities living in Orange County. The 24-hour online effort aims to raise $100,000 for 10 nonprofits offering a range of education and supportive services, skills training and counseling, and community outreach programs. Within Orange County, there are over 250,000 people living with disabilities, making up 8.5% of the community. This Giving Day is an opportunity for donors to collectively support the nonprofit organizations providing the tools and resources necessary for Orange County’s disabled residents to achieve success and independence. In addition to Project Independence, other participating organizations include Blind Children’s Learning Center of OC; Dayle McIntosh Center for the Disabled; Down Syndrome Association of OC; Family Support Network; Hope Center for the Arts; Special Olympics Southern California; Speech and Language Development Center; United Cerebral Palsy Association of OC; and Vocational Visions. “Funds raised during the Empowering Possibilities Giving Day will support individuals and families who have suffered from gaps in services, isolation, and lacked access to special education programs, especially during the pandemic,” said Shelley Hoss, president and CEO of the Orange County Community Foundation. “We are proud to power this collaborative effort to build a supportive and inclusive Orange County for all people, including our neighbors with disabilities.” For more than four decades. Project Independence has been promoting civil rights for people with developmental disabilities through a range of vital services that expand their independence and choice. Subscribe “We are so please to team again this year with our fellow nonprofits serving those who need us most.” said Debra Marsteller, CEO, Project Independence. “At Project Independence we are honored to serve adults with developmental disabilities. Our Empowering Possibilities Team represents the valuable community services to so many individuals and families throughout Orange County who need a helping hand. As a result, our entire community grows stronger. We thank you for your compassionate support during this campaign. We could not do what we do without you!” To give online during the 24-hour Giving Day, please visit empowering-possibilities-giving-day.ocnonprofitcentral.org. For more information about Orange County Community Foundation Collaborative Giving Days, please visit oc-cf.org/givingdays. ### About Project Independence Founded in 1977, Project Independence is an Orange County-based 501(c)3 nonprofit, serving nearly 1,000 people with developmental disabilities in their homes, at work, and in the community through Independent Living, Supported Employment and Day Program services, and other supportive resources. For more information, please visit www.proindependence.org About Orange County Community Foundation Founded in 1989, the Orange County Community Foundation (OCCF) works with donors, strengthens the local nonprofit sector and works to find solutions to community needs. Since its inception, OCCF has awarded nearly $780 million in grants and scholarships, placing the organization in the top two percent in grantmaking among U.S. community foundations. For more information, visit oc-cf.org or call 949-553-4202. Be a part of our conversation on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


Costa Mesa, California, March 23, 2021 – Nonprofit Project Independence of Costa Mesa is pleased to announce that client Victoria Tran has joined the staff of Carr Manufacturing Company, Inc. in Lake Forest. Her new job was secured through Project Independence’s Supported Employment program and job coach Sohalia Naeimypou. The nonprofit serves its clients by having job developers continually seek corporate partners looking to build a stronger community  by employing adults living with developmental disabilities. Carr owner Michelle Carraway says she knew their need for someone with the patience and focus that Victoria displayed would be a great addition to her team. Now they  are looking for other places where another PI client would find purpose and independence. As for Victoria, Sohalia couldn’t be prouder of how quickly she has taken to her job responsibilities. “Victoria might be wearing her safety mask, but I can always tell that she is smiling beneath it,” she says. The Supported Employment program develops jobs and then matches up the skills of clients to the needs of the employers. From orientation, skills training and commute scheduling, to detailed job duties and supervisor contact, the organization fuels stability in the employer and employee relationship.  It provides whatever the person needs to be successful, from extra training, establishing priorities and creating task schedules, to educating employees at the job site and building natural supports. Project Independence has more than four decades of service and stability in Orange County. Eighty-seven cents of every dollar raised by the nonprofit goes directly to support vital programs for people with developmental disabilities.  For additional information, please visit www.proindependence.org.


We serve over 700 people with developmental disabilities in Southern California as they experience life and discover their potential for independence, as every person should have the opportunity to do – regardless of disability.

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In Memory Of

Memorial to Bobby Spitzberg, our client, friend, ambassador, board member

Memorial to Jerry Keating, a great champion of Project Independence

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