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Mission Moment: On Campus Transition

Students from The Arc Jacksonville’s On Campus Transition Program (OCT) at The University of North Florida are interviewed for this month’s Mission Moment. Our OCT program serves young adults 18 and older who have completed high school course work.  The program’s focus is on academic enhancement, career development, university life, health/personal growth, independence and community life. Students are encouraged to become self-advocates while enjoying the college experience.

Maggie Knause

Maggie Knause

How long have you been a part of the OCT program: 3 years

What have you learned since being a student in the OCT program: I’ve learned how to make new friends.

What do you enjoy most about OCT: Being able to go to the game room on campus.

What do you like to do in your free time: Hanging out at LGBT (a club at UNF) where I feel comfortable and many of my friends are there as well.

How has OCT helped make your life better: I’ve been able to get better grades, more freedom and independence.

What are your plans beyond completion of the OCT program: I would like to work at Bealls or as a Police Dispatcher.

 Johnny Creatura

Johnny Creatura

How long have you been a part of the OCT program:1 year

What have you learned since being a student in the OCT program: I’ve learned how to do more things on my own, how to be accountable for my classes and more focused on what I’m doing.

What do you enjoy most about OCT: Being able to meet new people, both in the OCT program and outside of the OCT program.

What do you like to do in your free time: I hang out with my friends in the game room on campus.

How has OCT helped make your life better: I’m more independent. I’ve learned how to do things on my own. I’ve also learned about skills to get a job.

What are your plans for after you’ve completed the OCT program: I plan to work  hands-on with animals.

Gentry Riner

Gentry Riner

How long have you been a part of the OCT program: 2 years

What have you learned since being a student in the OCT program: I live on my own and do my own thing.

What do you enjoy most about OCT: Being around the different people and learning to be more independent.

What do you like to do in your free time: I like to do puzzles and watch TV.

How has OCT helped make your life better: It’s helped me gain more freedom and independence.

What are your plans beyond completion of the OCT program: I plan to find a permanent job and maybe live independently.

 We would  like to congratulate our recent OCT graduates: Andy Cox, Cara Stieglitz, Hayley Hess, Lamar Thompson, Nathaniel Brackett and Sean Hall. The Arc Jacksonville wishes you much success on future endeavours.






Fresh Faces at The Arc Jacksonville

If you’ve visited the Arc Jacksonville recently then you may have noticed a few new faces. The Arc Jacksonville has added six new members to our team since December. Each person brings experience and enthusiasm for our mission. We are excited to have them on board.

Denise Torres, Advocacy Specialist

Denise T.

Denise joined the Advocacy Department in March 2015. Before joining The Arc Jacksonville, Denise worked as a disability case manager for Social Security. Denise brings a wealth of knowledge and personal experience to the team.  She has a son with an intellectual disability. He currently lives at The District on Kernan and has worked at Publix for six years. She also has a daughter who’s a senior at The University of North Florida. Denise can be reached at


Katie Shaneyfelt, Volunteer Program Manager

Katie S.

Katie joined The Arc Jacksonville as the Volunteer Program Manager through funding provided by the Volunteer Florida Volunteer Generation Grant. Katie was born and raised in Jacksonville and is currently attending Florida State College at Jacksonville to study animation and film. A long-standing volunteer at Club Arc, Katie is passionate about the mission and vision of The Arc Jacksonville. Katie will focus on recruiting volunteers and managing Club Arc. She can be reached at


Frantz Damas, Volunteer Coordinator


Frantz joined the team early in March as the Volunteer Coordinator through the AmeriCorps VISTA program. Frantz is from Haiti and is fluent in English, Creole and French. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Public Safety Management at FSCJ and currently attends UNF pursuing a master’s degree in Public Administration. Frantz’s focus is on developing partnerships with public, private and other nonprofit organizations to develop a stronger volunteer base at The Arc Jacksonville. Frantz can be reached at



Kelly Brenner, AmeriCorps Program Director

Kelly B.

Kelly joined The Arc Jacksonville in February as the AmeriCorps Program Director. She grew up in the Tampa Bay area and is a graduate of University of Central Florida. Kelly has a background in staff and volunteer management, advocating for at-risk children and individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In her free time, Kelly enjoys drawing, painting and writing. Kelly can be reached at



Marinela Lutaj, Bachelor’s Level Practitioner

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Marinela joined the Mental Health Department in December 2014 as a Bachelor’s Level Practitioner. Originally from Albania, she loves learning about new cultures, reading, writing and organizing. Marinela cares deeply about the well-being of people and is excited that The Arc Jacksonville gives her the opportunity to really help people. 



Shannon Griffin, Program Coordinator

Shannon Griffin -OCT

Shannon joined the Arc Jacksonville’s On Campus Transition program as a Program Coordinator. She is a Jacksonville native and recent graduate of the University of North Florida with a degree in Exceptional Student Education. She is currently earning her master’s degree in Exceptional Student Education with a concentration in Disability Services. Shannon is passionate about working with adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and looks forward to working with students at the OCT Program. Shannon can be reached at

March Mission Moment

This month’s Mission Moment focuses on three residents in The Arc Jacksonville group homes. Group homes are perfect for individuals looking to live independently with some assistance from staff, while also building social skills and learning to live among their peers. Residents work with staff to help achieve their personal goals and strengthen their independent living skills.

Read below to see how Carol, Timothy and Ronald have flourished while living in their group homes.

IMG_2110 edited CarolR.

Carol Rodelli – Grove House Resident

When Carol moved into Grove House she was shy and struggled to make daily decisions. After much practice and hard work over the years, her communication and socialization skills have improved. Carol is now able to make decisions on where she would like to eat and what color to paint her room. Carol has increased her level of independence by taking charge of her medication regime and learning more about each pill. During the day Carol attends the Westside ADT Program where she does contract work and loves to see the staff and her friends.

 Q&A with Carol:

How long have you lived at Grove House: Since Grove House opened in 2009.

What do you enjoy most about Grove House: I enjoy going on trips with my peers and staff.

What have you learned since living at Grove House: I’ve become better at taking my medication on my own. I now know the colors and names of each pill I’m supposed to take.

What is your favorite thing to do: Going out to eat.



Timothy Davis – Kaden Road Resident

When Timothy first came to the Kaden Road group home in May 2005, he wasn’t very social. He spent more time in his room than with his housemates and group home staff.  In 2011, Timothy was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that will cause him to become legally blind. This diagnoses changed Timothy’s perspective, and he became eager to increase his independent living skills.  By using his other senses such as touch and sound, he’s learned to recognize different objects he uses in everyday life. Over time Timothy is cooking more, he’s able to load and unload the dishwasher and he washes his clothes with assistance from staff. In addition, Timothy has become more social and enjoys going on community outings.  Timothy is a happy and quiet individual who brings joy to the people who know him.

Q&A with Timothy

What do you enjoy most about living at Kaden Road: Being able to live independently and watching TV with the other guys at the group home.

Favorite thing to do: Going out into to the community to the Dollar Store to purchase collectibles.

What have you learned since living at Kaden Road:  How to set the table, wash clothes, make my own sandwich and prepare meals with staff assistance.


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Ronald Thomas – Jammes Road Resident

Ronald was introduced to The Arc Jacksonville when seeking a day program that would assist his goals to expand social skills and to adapt to different environments.  Ronald found that opportunity at the Arc’s Westside location where he was accepted “with open arms.” Ronald moved into the Jammes Road group home in September 2014 and adapted quickly to the environment and the other residents. Ronald is non-verbal and communicates through body language signals. His smile is a clear sign that he is enjoying himself.  Ronald enjoys music, strobe lights and beaded necklaces to twirl. He is working daily with adaptive feeding devices to strengthen his handgrip.


Information compiled by Group Home Managers and Arc Jacksonville Development Staff



Mission Moment

As part of our 50th Anniversary celebration, we will be highlighting individuals served by The Arc Jacksonville. This month we are spotlighting Bert and Slyvia who earn a paycheck through Triumph Industries.


Bert Mallory

IMG_7718 BERT EditedHow long have you been in The Arc Program: Over 12 years

What do you enjoy most about Triumph Industries:
I love palletizing and working with my friend Lester Scott.

What have you learned since being a part of Triumph Industries: How to assemble boxes for the different contracts.

What’s your favorite thing to do outside of The Arc Jacksonville: Cut the grass, ride my bike and listen to music.

How has The Arc Jacksonville helped make your life better: Going to PSR has helped me know how to better handle myself when I get upset.



Sylvia Cortez

20150217_091841 -Sylvia C.How long have you been in the Arc Program? 23 years

What do you enjoy most about Triumph Industries: I like making the boxes, sorting the hangers and getting training on how to palletize and wrap.

What have you learned since being a part of Triumph Industries: That I’ve been doing good.  I’ve learned how to sweep.

What is your  favorite thing to do outside of The Arc Jacksonville: I like watching TV, going to the zoo and visiting with my sister.  I also like to stay with Ms. Nicole and do different things with her.

How has The Arc Jacksonville helped make your life better: Gives me the opportunity to make money and at the same time I get to see my friends everyday.

National Mentor Month – Spotlight on our AmeriCorps Mentors

In honor of National Mentor month, we would like to thank a few of our AmeriCorps members who serve at our On Campus Transition Program, helping our OCT students succeed in their college endeavors.


Misha Armstrong:

Misha currently mentors 14 OCT studentsi wish  helping them complete course assignments and adapt to college expectations

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Describe your experience as a mentor:
My experience as a mentor has been an adventure. Every day I have the opportunity to learn from the students I serve and I have been greatly humbled by the experience.

What have you learned as an OCT Mentor:
Working with the students has given me the opportunity to learn as they learn. I have gained patience, communication skills, and the ability to work with a diverse group of people. I have learned to adapt and be flexible because of the dynamic environment I work in.

Why do you think mentoring is important:
As a mentor, I provide students with a support system and assistance as they transition and adapt to college and eventually to work expectations. At OCT we also encourage peer mentoring amongst the students, helping them to enhance their leadership skills and creating friendships. Mentoring is an important aspect of the program because it increases confidence and ensures that each student has a team of people encouraging them.

What do you hope to accomplish as a mentor:
I hope to show students that there are no limitations in life except for the ones they create. I hope I am able to spark an interest in each of the students and teach them the importance of education, stepping outside of their comfort zones, and trying something new.

Stephanie Prudencio:

Stephanie Prudencio- edited

Stephanie currently mentors 15 students in our OCT program.

What have you learned as an OCT Mentor:Describe your experience as a mentor:
Being a mentor has redefined my idea of “putting others first.” Sometimes it can be really easy for me to get caught up in my own achievement and advancement. When I am mentoring, I am constantly challenged to step outside myself and consider the needs of others before my own. It is a humbling and richly rewarding experience.

The more time I spend with my students at OCT, the more “disability” seems to fade from the picture. I see them as people; people with interests and dreams. People who make me laugh and who never fail to surprise me. My automatic response when I first started mentoring was, “They need my help.” I admittedly saw myself as above my students. Though my students may require special attention, I have learned that sometimes all they really need is someone to empower them.

Why do you think mentoring is important:
When I think about the importance of mentoring, I am reminded of the difference between mentors and role models. Role models are people we choose. They can be famous people (actors, athletes, musicians) or people we know personally (family, friends, coworkers). We study their lives and follow their examples. Mentors, however, choose us. They choose us when they study our lives and lead by their examples. While we should all have role models to look up to, there is nothing quite like having a mentor. Mentor relationships are important because there is power in having people in our lives who are invested in seeking our potential and helping us grow.

What do you hope to accomplish as a mentor:
I hope the students continue to develop independence and learn how to advocate for themselves after OCT. I also hope to encourage other people, especially young adults, to seek formal mentoring opportunities. Each of us has talents and skills that we can share with others. Mentoring is a great way to reach out and develop meaningful relationships.

Did you or do you currently have a mentor? If so, how has having a mentor helped you to help others:
As a teenager, one of the most influential adults in my life was my taekwondo coach. By showing me that I was capable of more than I believed, he helped me develop self-confidence and leadership. In college, I also had the opportunity to work with a faculty mentor for a research thesis. She was clearly devoted to helping me improve as a student and encouraged me to follow my academic pursuits. Both of these mentors have had a lasting impression on my life. I think about their examples often when I mentor my students.


Terrevio Newman:

Terrevio-New Picture

Terrevio currently serves as a mentor recruiter for our OCT Program.

Describe your experience as a mentor:
My job requires a lot of work and organization. I’ve always been a person who’s attentive to details. Also, a sense of discernment and having a good judge of character is important.

What have you learned as an OCT Mentor:
I’ve learned to be a bit more patient and work at the pace of others for their benefit.

Why do you think mentoring is important:
It’s an opportunity to make a lasting impact on someone else’s life. Had I not had great mentors to guide me and set examples in my life, I don’t know what decisions I would have made concerning my personal life and education. Being a mentor isn’t just about  helping another person. It’s about you and your mentee creating new experiences together that you both can grow from.

What do you hope to accomplish as a mentor:
I hope to continue to display great leadership and have a positive attitude towards my students.

Did you, or do you currently have a mentor? If so how has having a mentor helped you to help others?
I have several mentors in different fields. They have been helping hands to me.


Lori Von Gartzen

Lori Von 1- Headshot

Lori is the Wellness Mentor for our On Campus Transition Program. She mentors students on a variety of subjects such as nutrition, stress management, fitness and health care. She makes sure students have all the tools they need to obtain their healthy goals.

Describe your experience as a mentor
So far it’s been an amazing and rewarding experience. It does take some planning and flexibility. When I am at the On Campus Transition program working with the students, it really does not feel like work to me.

What have you learned while being an OCT Mentor
I definitely have learned that mentoring goes both ways. Not only am I helping them succeed in their health goals, but they are helping me learn and grow as well. I am a nutrition major, so it allows me to share my knowledge with them, while reinforcing everything I am learning from class. As a wellness mentor, I make sure that I am leading by example. It helps me to keep myself in check when it comes to my own health goals as well

Why do you think mentoring is important
Mentoring is truly a valuable experience. Mentoring is beneficial both for the mentor and mentee. Knowing that someone cares about you and wants you to succeed can really help you reach your full potential and accomplish more than you ever thought you would.

What do you hope to accomplish as a mentor:
I really hope to inspire and motivate my students to create healthy habits for themselves. Most of the students that I mentor are living away from home and the transition can be challenging. I hope my cooking classes expose them to healthy delicious recipes that they can take to their house or apartment and make themselves.

Thank you to all our AmeriCorps members who serve as mentors at the OCT program. We appreciate their dedication and hard work!

Advocacy: Community Voice

When families find it hard to locate services needed for their loved ones with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), they can turn to The Arc Jacksonville’s Advocacy Department, often known as ASK.  ASK – which stands for Advocacy, Support and Knowledge – serves all age ranges and can point them in the right direction.

ASK is led by Vice President Charlotte Temple and advocacy specialist Ami Caswell. Both are parents of a person with I/DD and know what it feels like to have to search for resources.

“It’s my life,” said Temple. “I live it as a parent, it’s not a career.”

In addition to providing support and guidance to individuals and families ASK is also actively involved in community affairs. Temple and Caswell participate in the Family Care Council, financial literacy groups, the Mayor’s Disability council and much more. They also host several trainings and workshops for parents and families throughout the year and operate two email groups that keep families and I/DD professionals up-to-date with events, legislative changes, resources and more.

The advocacy department has done an exceptional job at listening and responding to the needs and wants of parents and family members and could be considered the unseen guiding force behind many of the services and programs The Arc Jacksonville currently provides. ASK helps create a voice in the community for people with I/DD and through services offered they’ve created more opportunities for the I/DD community as a whole. Programs and services such as Club Arc, On Campus Transition and Xperience as well as the Guardianship Program and Pooled Trust were created from these needs.

“Advocacy serves as the pulse of the community for the needs not being met,” said Temple.  “We help put together services that come from the genuine desires and needs of parents and families.”


Employment Stars

In honor of Disability Employment Awareness,  we showcased individuals with I/DD who have found community employment on our Facebook page. Below are the individuals we featured throughout October.


IMG_1660 -editedJosh is a new hire at Winn Dixie working as a courtesy associate. He assists in making guests’ experience unforgettable by bagging and loading their groceries for them. He is looking forward to his first rainy work day, because he gets to make guests feel extra special by escorting them to their car with an umbrella. Besides going above and beyond at work, Josh enjoys cooking, taking care of his dogs and volunteering at his church’s nursery.




IMG_1685 -editedLauren has worked as a silverware roller and hostess at Carrabba’s Italian Grill for two years. She absolutely loves coming to work at her dream job, and has built life long friendships there. When Lauren is not at work, she enjoys participating in Best Buddies, cooking meals with her roommate, hanging out with her friends and boyfriend, and also loves a good shopping spree.

“Lauren is a super star employee who gets along great with her coworkers. Lauren is always punctual, has never been late to work and is one of my most productive employees. She is also wonderful with guests and gives outstanding customer service.” – David Rigby, Managing Partner, Carrabba’s Italian Grill


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For the past 13 years, Jason has worked full-time in the EverBank mail room. Jason spends his days busy with delivering mail and office supplies to the building’s many floors, and is always eager to obtain new training that will continue to enhance his skill set. In his free time, Jason enjoys playing in poker tournaments and attending Jacksonville Jaguar games. He is also a member of The Arc Jacksonville Board of Directors.





IMG_1510Ciara was a participant in our On the Job Training program and is a recent graduate of our University of North Florida’s On Campus Transition Program. Ciara worked in a paid internship for three months at Baptist Medical Center downtown as a department assistant in the nutrition department. Here she learned valuable skills such as customer service, time management and active listening, which will be easily transferred to a community employment opportunity.





Charla  is a participant of the On the Job Training program at the Baptist Hill Breast Center  and is working as a department assistant. Here she helps staff with their tumor registry, puts together educational materials and packets, stocks exam rooms with clean blankets and also helps mail out letters and requests to physicians. She also helps pull patient’s files as needed.




Stories complied by The Arc Jacksonville Employment Services Department

A Community of Social Opportunities

“Their joy is contagious,” said Reesa Stanley describing what it’s like to work with The Arc Jacksonville’s Social Opportunities and Adult Recreation (SOAR) program.  Stanley is the SOAR Program Manager and has worked with the SOAR program since 2012.

The program was originally established in 1985 as a senior program for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. When the program relocated to The Arc Jacksonville’s Westside location it was expanded to include all ages, although its main demographics continues to be seniors.

SOAR attracts individuals who have either retired from contract work, or individuals who are no longer able to manipulate the boxes or other contracts due to physical limitations. SOAR also attracts individuals looking for a general social program. Unlike some of the other day programs offered, SOAR is solely recreational and social activities.

SOAR participants during recent Jaguar pre-season practice

“The main goal of SOAR is to give individuals, no matter what their age or ability, a place to come where they can socialize and hang out and go out and do things with people with similar interests, “ said Stanley.  She also mentioned the program encourages participants to be open to learning new things to keep their minds and bodies as young as possible.

Part of the program’s success is in helping individuals to become more sociable. The majority of the participants are friendly and outgoing which helps bring other participants out of their shell.  Stanley shared that there have been several individuals who entered into the program too shy to speak, but overtime they began speaking to others and participating in more activities.

Stanley describes many of the participants as social butterflies, “They take everyone under their wings and make them feel welcome,” she said.

SOAR constantly has something going on whether it be crafts, listening to music, or trips out in the community.  Some of their recent outing included bowling and shopping for the upcoming Oktoberfest Halloween Party Celebration.  Stanley says the program plans to start volunteering in the community at a local food bank not far from the Westside location.

The community outings are a component of the program most participants enjoy; especially when they go out to eat.

“They love to sit together and socialize with their friends and coworkers, like one big happy family,” said Stanley.

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Stanley hopes that participants in the SOAR program gain a sense of belonging to something wonderful.

“We hope that they feel important and that they have friends and family that look forward to seeing them, and that they have value,” said Stanley.

When asked about the program, the overwhelming response Stanley gets from co-workers is that working with SOAR is an extremely rewarding experience.

“The individuals come in every day with smiles on their faces and they’re always happy to see you,” said Stanley.  It’s no wonder their joy is contagious.


Interested in being a part of SOAR? Click here for how you or your loved one can apply today!

Xperience: The Bridge That Connects

The Arc Jacksonville’s Xperience program provides enrichment for young adults in the community with I/DD. Located at Shepherd of The Woods Lutheran Church, participants engage in hands-on learning, socialization and community volunteerism Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Xperience participants spend a day at The Brooks YMCA

Xperience participants spend a day at The Brooks YMCA

Xperience program director, Suizzy Leonhard, describes Xperience as the bridge that connects participants and their next phase of life.

“Through our program we try to help support their goals and give them tools to get to the next level,” she said.

When participants enter the Xperience program, they create personal goals with the help of a support coordinator or guardian. Some of their goals consist of employment, increasing social skills, weight loss and living independently.

The program teaches participants skills focused on their goals. Through a combination of classroom-based discussions and hands-on activities in the community, the program gives practical application of social, job, life and wellness skills.

Mock scenarios are created for participants so that their skills are applied in the community. This may include a trip to the laundry mat to learn how to wash clothes, or working with a mock budget to purchase items for an apartment.

Leonhard makes sure that at least two hours of their day are spent doing something hands-on in the community. She stresses the idea of community inclusiveness.

“Participants really enjoy community outings, exercising at the YMCA, cooking classes and volunteering at Shepherd of the Woods Lutheran School,” said Leonhard. As the program name dictates, participants learn through experience. Therefore, in all their outings something is to be learned.

“Once a month we go out for lunch,” Leonhard said. “They learn about picking healthy choices, budgeting, pricing the food, going through the menus and tipping.”

The hands-on learning has proved to be a success. Leonhard has seen consistent improvements in participants.  Some participants have found community employment, others have become more social and independent while some have become health conscious through weight loss and improved healthy eating habits.

Leonhard also expressed how welcoming the community has been of the Xperience program. Accommodating private computer classes and donating food for Xperience cooking classes are just a few ways the community has given a helping hand to the program.

“We are well received by the community and it’s nice to feel welcomed,” she said.

Written by Alex McClain, Development VISTA

Life Skills: Learning and Growing Together

The Arc Jacksonville’s Life Skills program provides assistance for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in navigating through daily living routines. Offered at both the Downtown and Westside locations, the program teaches participants skills that are essential in helping them to lead more independent lives.

collage Life Skills West and Downtown

“The overall goal of the Life Skills program is for each individual to be able to do daily living skills as independently as possible,” said Shanikka DeCosta, who has worked with Life Skills for 10 years at the Downtown location.

Each participant has an individualized plan of skills to learn or improve upon based on their personal goals. In order to reach the participants’ goals, communication is very important can vary for each person.  DeCosta says that it can be a challenge but the staff find different ways to  communicate with each participant.

“We create communication boards with pictures so they can tap on the images to help better communicate their needs,” said DeCosta.

At Life Skills-Westside, Ina Martin, who supervises program activities, primarily uses sign language.

“We use sign language because a lot of the participants are autistic,” said Martin. “It has really helped us to break through in communicating with a lot of them.”

The staff provides a comfortable learning environment for the participants. Because there are fewer participants in the Life Skills program, it makes it easier to create a one-to-one atmosphere between participants and staff members.

“I love the individuals, I love coming to work,” said Martin.  “Even though I do the same thing every day, the individuals help make the experience different every day.”

Much of the staff feels their greatest reward is in what they’re able to give to the participants.

“To see participant’s progress is the best feeling in the world [and] knowing that you were a part of that,” said Williams.

Grace Murray, who also works in Life Skills-Downtown, enjoys helping contribute to the participants’ growth. “What I like about Life Skills is teaching participants things they didn’t know and watching them excel,” she said.

Over the years DeCosta has come to appreciate the ability to help others. “It’s a good feeling to know that they’ve grown,” she said. “When a person has the right tools they’re able to communicate better and reach their goals.”

Life Skills is a growth experience for the staff as well. Working in the program has helped the staff improve their own communication skills.

“While we teach, we learn from them,” said Markita Williams.

“I’ve learned that in Life Skills, this is a place of new adventures,” said Murray. “I love the challenges I have to deal with on a daily basis and Life Skills is the place to be if you ask me.”

Written by: Alexandra McClain, AmeriCorps Development VISTA

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