‘A voice for the local community:’ Ana Acton, executive director of FREED, appointed to state post
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has appointed the current executive director of Grass Valley’s FREED Center for Independent Living to deputy director of the Independent Living and Community Access Division at the California Department of Rehabilitation.
Ana Acton, 45, will not move from her Nevada City home as she continues organizing and advocating on behalf of the elderly or disabled on the state level.
“An important role to play in the work that I do is keeping a voice for the local community, making sure that policies and decisions are reflective of local needs,” Acton said. “That’s one of my major goals in this position.
FREED Deputy Director Carly Pacheco will serve as interim director of the community resource-oriented organization.
“FREED is really in a strong position and has really great leadership right now,” Acton said. “I’ve never felt more confident about being able to leave knowing FREED will continue providing great services that we’re known for.”
Acton said Grass Valley’s FREED was a robust and effective community partners-oriented organization when she arrived in 2013, giving her more time to invest in policy creation.
As an organization that partners with existing outreach and living facilities, FREED leverages connections to meet the varied and individual needs of Nevada County’s community members.
“We work with homeless, we do home repairs and modifications — we respond to needs as they arise,” Acton said. “That’s what makes us unique as well, it’s based on that individualized needs.”
FREED is one of six local disability and aging resource centers in California funded by the state government, Acton said.
According to a media release, Acton served from 2004 to 2007 as FREED’s program manager and systems change advocate. From 2007 to 2010 she was FREED’s executive director. She worked as chief of the Independent Living and Assistive Technology Section at the California Department of Rehabilitation from 2010 to 2012. Acton then returned to the executive director position with FREED.
Through her work on the state level, Acton is a member of the Anthem Medi-Cal Managed Care Advisory Board, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services Access and Functional Needs Advisory Committee, the California Aging and Disability Resource Connection Advisory Committee and the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers.
Acton said these board positions helped prepare her for the new position’s responsibilities — particularly in wildfire emergency response.
“It was sort of a natural next step for me to go to the state,” Acton said. “I’ve worked on emergency services and response, wildfires and (Public Safety Power Shut-offs) because the people (affected by my line of work) are disproportionately impacted.”
In addition to her own hard work, Acton said she followed former FREED director Tony Sour’s legacy, who was appointed to the state post before her.
“We really provide a wide variety of resource information programs and services for individuals regardless of what kind of disability they have, what age the individual is — we really focus on bringing community supports to individuals so they can live, work and play,” Acton said.
Acton said it’s important to be aware and sensitive to the needs of all members of our community to strengthen it as a whole. Acton said she feels encouraged by the recognition of the movie “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution.”
Acton said the disability rights movement that ultimately gave birth to FREED has a long history of fighting institutionalized stigma.
“It is really important that we focus and work together to support community living for people of all ages and adults,” Acton said. “There has been a tendency — systems and policies have made it harder for community to access supports they need — for people to end up in institutional settings, congregate settings, places they would rather not be. We need to come together and support community living.”
Acton’s new position does not require state Senate confirmation. The salary is $121,044.
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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