Bob Guthrie, a voice for developmentally disabled adults

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Robert Paul Guthrie has a lot to say about how perceptions have changed over time about developmentally disabled persons. He knows, as a 76-year-old East County resident who currently serves, and is served by, the East County Training Center of The Arc.

Robert Paul Guthrie has a lot to say about how perceptions have changed over time about developmentally disabled persons. He knows, as a 76-year-old East County resident who currently serves, and is served by, the East County Training Center of The Arc.

“Bob Paul,” as some friends call him, spent his infancy and early years in West Coast hospitals and foster homes after he was born on Aug. 26, 1941, and subsequently diagnosed as what was then termed “retarded.” That’s a long way from his retirement in 2015 from the shipping and receiving department of Doetsch Shocks and his ongoing advocacy on behalf of fellow developmentally disabled adults.

“I want to be a role model to those out there,” Guthrie said. “Instead of old, call me classic.”

He is indeed. Guthrie was honored as Consumer of the Year for 2016 by The Arc’s East County Training Center “In Recognition of Your Outstanding Performance.” Moreover, Guthrie spoke at The Arc’s National Convention, held in early November at Sheraton San Diego Hotel.

Guthrie has lived in and around El Cajon since the 1960’s. He said, “I’ve seen a lot. I was in El Cajon before the 805 came in, when 101 was the main Pacific Highway.”

He is still active after his retirement, with Kiwanis in Alpine, and at Foothills Church, alongside his service on the East County Training Center’s board of directors as a member-at-large. He enjoys square dancing. 

Guthrie has a social media presence on Facebook, and he admitted that he is “still looking” for a girlfriend. And that brought to Guthrie’s mind the barrier-breaking marriage of Roger and Virginia Myers, when developmentally disabled adults were carelessly dubbed incapable of making an informed decision to wed.

“I want to pass the word on to help others understand,” Guthrie said. ”We are a little bit different. We want others to please respect us as we respect them. We are all unique, we all have different skills. We have feelings like everyone does. We should not be warehoused. We have lives too, and we go do services.”

Guthrie began living independently during the 1990’s. He resides now in a mobile home park. He praised the center in El Cajon. “The Center helps a lot,” he said. “They’re great staff, the best staff there.”

But Guthrie has serious concerns these days. Government programs for those with disabilities across the board are shrinking, as rates for services for the disabled are increasing, “We need more new programs for developmentally disabled people coming out of school, so that these younger people can become active in the community.”

Guthrie cited in particular recent local cutbacks in transportation services from Metropolitan Transit System. Of the developmentally disabled seniors he knows, none drive because they earn too little income to own and operate a vehicle. Former weekend bus services from nearby the training center into Rancho San Diego are no longer running, requiring a lengthier bus ride into Lemon Grove.”This affects everything,” Guthrie explained, “including family church, and weekend activities.”

He mentioned the Lanterman Act, passed into California law in 1977, providing developmentally disabled persons the right to services and assistance enabling them to lead independent lives.

“We are entitled to the same access to community service, equal access,” Guthrie continued. He stated that he believes only politicians now serve on the MTS board. “We want to be involved in the area around East County. We should be able to be involved in decisions.” 

The Arc of San Diego’s East County Training Center is located at 1374 E. Lexington Avenue. More information about the Center and Arc services in general can be found online at www.arc-sd.com. 

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