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Having their backs when they're out and about

Appeal-Democrat - 9/27/2017

Sept. 27--Tony Stewart's bike was stolen.

He was also robbed of his wallet and ID.

It's happened before to the autistic 45-year-old Olivehurst resident.

It's why advocacy groups try to help people with intellectual or physical disabilities minimize their risk while being out and about.

PRIDE Industries and other local agencies work with people who have disabilities to help them interact with the public and protect themselves from getting scammed.

"We have a safety mindset at PRIDE," said Merida Lozano, rehabilitation manager with the organization. "Wednesday is dedicated to safety and we wear yellow safety shirts."

Lozano said they employ 51 people at the Yuba City-based organization that provides behavior support programs. They have regular meetings with clients to help prepare them on how to identify scams.

"We teach classes and cover a variety of topics, from dealing with changes in weather and drinking enough fluids to awareness in the community," Lozano said. "Some of our clients are very susceptible to getting taken advantage of because they can be an easy target."

She said they also help people with interpersonal relationships and how to be safe on social media and with other online activity.

"We have a class on healthy relationships and safety on social media and how to block people on Facebook -- if they want to do that," Lozano said. "We tell them to be aware and they can always ask us for help, if they don't know what to do."

She said one client sent about $500 to someone after receiving an email request for money from a person claiming to be in a dire situation in an African country.

Lozano said another client recently signed a contract requiring her to pay about $200 each month for the installation of a solar system at her house.

"A person was selling solar door-to-door and she signed a contract, so she may be stuck paying the bill," Lozano said. "We tell our clients that they can bring any paperwork to us, if they'd like us to go over it with them before signing it."

She said PRIDE offers independent living services and can refer clients to other organizations that help teach people with disabilities how to navigate society.

Tony's story

Tony Stewart is a longtime local.

"Because he's autistic and has been around since high school, Tony has been a target in the community. But he's an amazing guy and an excellent worker," said Merida Lozano, rehabilitation manager with PRIDE. "He doesn't like to interact with people a lot at work but when he gets home, he gets on his bike and goes to Walmart or Arco in Linda and even over to Yuba City."

Stewart got his bike stolen recently and another one was stolen back in 2014.

"I like to ride my bike around Yuba City, Marysville and Olivehurst and all the shoppers at Walmart greet me," Stewart said. "I also like football and baseball and go to the games in town."

Stewart has been with PRIDE Industries for about eight years and said he spends his work days there cleaning bathrooms and other areas.

After his bike was stolen, Stewart was stranded, but Angela Cuevas donated a new bike to him, according to a Facebook post by the Marysville Police Department.

"I'm thankful for everyone who supports me and my sister," Stewart said.

Stewart lives with his sister, Marissa Atkins and she said his wallet, with identification card, were also stolen.

"He's known as a local legend and a lot of people love him, but there are some who bully him," Atkins said. "Working at PRIDE has helped him blend into society and be a part of it -- like the rest of us."

Stewart has been living with his sister for the past 10 years.

Michael Atkins, Marissa's husband, offered to set Tony up with a car, but he opted to keep the bike.

"I think it could a a therapeutic thing for him -- having the bike and being independent," Atkins said. "It's an important part of his routine."


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