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Melinda Lara Understands the Importance of Connection in Our Lives


Melinda with her sister Mandy.
Melinda with her sister Mandy, who is a TMI client.

As the Toward Maximum Independence (TMI) Community Outreach and Resource Specialist, Melinda Lara founded the TMI CONNECT group in 2016 to give our clients with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) the opportunity to SOCIALIZE, EDUCATE & ADVOCATE. When the pandemic struck, she didn’t hesitate to switch gears to offer virtual events to ensure our clients could continue connecting with friends and have access to educational opportunities. Growing up with a sister who has Down syndrome, Melinda knows first hand just how important that is for individuals with I/DD in order to be able to fully thrive. Celebrating 10 years with TMI and named our 2020 Administrative Employee of the Year, Melinda shared with us her hopes for the future and much more. We love what she had to say and the photos that she shared with us!

Melinda with our client, Matt, at a CONNECT event.
Melinda with our client, Matt, at a CONNECT event.

Q. What interested you about working here?

A. My personal connection to people with our community is what brought me to the field. TMI's mission and vision inspired me to work for the organization.


Q. What is your favorite part about working at TMI?

A. I love working for an organization that truly serves individuals through justice, access, and empowerment.

Q. What challenges do you and/or our clients face?

A. Access to resources and information has always been a challenge. Unfortunately, many social service organizations operate from a reactive approach. Instead of empowering people through education and awareness, they wait until a need is identified. I feel it is important to equip individuals to make educated decisions for themselves and their livelihoods.

Melinda with her youngest daughter.
Melinda with her middle daughter.

Q. How have you handled the challenges?

A. When new individuals are seeking services, I provide them with additional referrals and community resources that could benefit them holistically. My role has provided opportunities to network with community partners and organizations that have benefited our clients directly.


Q. How are you assisting TMI clients during the pandemic?

A. My interaction with clients is mostly through CONNECT. Prior to the pandemic, CONNECT met twice a month, however we are now offering programming on a weekly basis. Our clients provide input in the types of activities that are offered and our volunteers from San Diego State University and I develop the programming. Given the unique circumstances brought by the pandemic, the people we support have become so technologically savvy! It has been great to see so many of them at our events and engaging with other clients and employees.

Melinda with her husband and middle daughter.
Melinda with her husband and youngest daughter.

Q. How does making a difference in the lives of our clients make you feel?

A. When I see those we support each week, it truly brings a smile to my face! Our clients are optimistic, engaging, and appreciative. I feel connected to our mission at TMI and it brings a sense of purpose.


Q. What are your hopes for the future of individuals with developmental disabilities?

A. To have access and thrive in their communities. The people we support come from endless intersectional identities and deserve respect and opportunities to be successful.

Melinda with her oldest daughter.
Melinda with her oldest daughter.

Q. What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

A. I enjoy building memories with family and friends. The pandemic has allowed more time at home with my spouse and growing girls. Nothing beats a warm blanket in the backyard around the campfire with family. I also enjoy learning whether exploring culture and nature through travel, catching up on my favorite NPR podcasts and audiobooks, or doing something creative and artistic.


Q. Who do you admire? Why?

A. Kamala Harris, Malala Yousafzai, Dolores Huerta...there are too many amazing leaders to pick just one! I admire strong individuals who are not afraid to stand up and advocate for what is right and who use their position to help others rise while solving social justice issues.


Q. What is a quote that is meaningful to you?

A. "Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today." - Malcolm X


Melinda is an all-round awesome person. TMI is fortunate to call her ours. Congratulations to Melinda on 10 years with TMI and being an Employee of the Year! Thank you for all that you do to help transform the lives of our clients!

Melinda with her sister when they were children. We love it!
Melinda with her sister when they were children. We love it!

Toward Maximum Independence (TMI) has been transforming the lives of children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities since 1981 and the Deaf and Hard of Hearing since 2000. In 2020, we launched Disabled Veteran Employment Services. TMI strives to help our clients to realize their hopes and dreams by providing Employment Solutions, Community Living and Family Support Services throughout San Diego, Riverside and Imperial Counties. To stay connected with us, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Together we can share acceptance and awareness, ultimately contributing to further inclusion.