Locals who contributed to the annual Knights of Columbus Tootsie Roll drive last fall have now made a difference in the lives of the hard-working, enthusiastic adult participants of the Vocational Improvement Program Inc. in Hesperia.


While the majority of candy drive funds went to the Knights' Columbian Foundation, which benefits adults with developmental disabilities, a check for several hundred dollars was presented to V.I.P. on March 6.


"This is absolutely wonderful," said Barbara Guerrero, director of rehabilitation for V.I.P. "The Knights have been so supportive."


The money will pay for a special treat all can enjoy, perhaps a pizza party.


Presenting the check to Guerrero were Grand Knight Bill Kortch, Deputy Grand Knight Larry Fortin, District Deputy Ron Manna and Victor Valley Council #4228 member Mario Gutierrez.


The Inland Empire-based V.I.P. has three locations including its Rancho Cucamonga corporate office, a facility in San Bernardino, and the High Desert office, which opened on Eucalyptus Street in Hesperia in 1999.


The "clients," who live in group homes, with families or on their own, learn works skills and ethics that prepare them for placement with a local company. Participating businesses have included Ralphs and Home Depot.


"They want to get out and contribute and make a living and treated like any other person," Guerrero said.


Moreover, she said, the lessons learned at V.I.P. go two ways.


"They've taught more to me than I've ever taught them."