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OCT Class of 2014

Eleven students from the On Campus Transition students graduated on April 22nd. Over the past four years they participated in campus life, took classes, lived on their own and made meaningful and lasting friendships. In honor of the class of 2014 we have highlighted each one below.


DSC_0003What did you like most about OCT?
I like OCT because you get to go to college and make lots of friends

What have you learned from the OCT program?
I’ve learned real life skills such as being professional in the workplace

What advice do you have for future OCT graduates?
My advice is to have a good work ethic and good time management

Plans for after OCT?
Take some time off and then come back in the fall





What have you learned from the OCT program?
I’ve learned not to be afraid of trying new things

What will you miss about OCT?
My teachers, friends, classmates and mentors

What are your plans for after OCT?
I plan to get a part time job and save money to buy a car.

What advice do you have for future OCT graduates?
Keep your head high and never give up






What have you learned from the OCT program?
How to budget, how to be safe, getting on the bus and how to travel and shop alone

What will you miss most about the OCT program?
My whole OCT family, my OP( Osprey Production) and my favorite OCT staff members

What are your plans for after OCT?
To have a huge celebration with my family and to go to New York and do some acting on Broadway

What did you like most about the OCT program?
Going to Best Buddies workshops, Osprey Productions, hanging out with my mentor and AmeriCorps



DSC_0048 EDITEDWhat did you like most about the OCT program?
I liked the college experience overall

What have you learned from the OCT program?
Being independent and knowing how to fend for yourself. Being able to make my own decisions

What advice do you have for future OCT graduates?
Be mature, be yourself and stay out of trouble. Learn new things

What are your plans for after OCT?
Getting a part time job, getting my GED, taking courses at FSCJ and transferring to another University




DSC_0053 EditedWhat did you like most about the OCT program?
Being here for four years, being in classes, my mentors, and spending time with friends

What advice do you have for future OCT graduates?
Love and cherish your family, treat people with trust and respect. Never give up because people believe in you!

What is your best OCT memory?
All of OCT was wonderful and my strongest memories were spending time with my OCT family and friends.

What are your plans for after OCT?
To go home proud and eventually have a career





What are your plans for after OCT?
Working at Winn Dixie

What will you miss most about OCT?
The game room

What did you like most about the OCT program?
The bookstore

What have you learned from the OCT program?






What advice do you have for future OCT graduates?
You earned it and hard work pays off!

What are your plans for after OCT?
Working in the culinary field

What will you miss most about OCT?
My friends

What have you learned from OCT?
How to follow your schedule





DSC_0021What did you learn from the OCT program?
I learned to be on time for my class and sessions and time management

What will you miss most about the OCT program?
I will miss my friends and my classes

What was your least favorite class
Intro to Teaching

What advice do you have for future OCT graduates?
I will come back and visit you guys!






What did you like most about the OCT program?
I liked everything

What will you miss about OCT?
Being in classes, friends and mentors

What advice do you have for future OCT graduates?
I would tell them that it’s fun being here and to have fun

What have you learned from the OCT program?
How to make friends






What did you like most about the OCT program?
Loved everything! All the access to UNF event/programs and mentors

What have you learned from the OCT program?
Social and Independent living skills

What advice do you have for future OCT graduates?
College is a lot of work, but is awesome

What’s your best OCT memory?
Being a Buddy Ambassador and internship with Best Buddies





What did you like most about the OCT program?
Hanging out with mentors and having lunch with them

What have you learned from the OCT program?
How to be prepared and up to date with things

What will you miss most about OCT?
All my friends around campus

What are your plans for after OCT?
Taking cooking classes and getting a job, and maybe working with Comcast




Congratulations to the OCT class of 2014!

Program Spotlight: A.R.T.

Art projects and colored squaresIn 2003 The Arc Jacksonville introduced The A.R.T. program to its Max Care program. A.R.T. gives individuals with severe physical disabilities the opportunity to express themselves through creating pieces of art. The program uses the Artistic Realization Technologies technique; in which the artist works with a tracker who provides surrogate hands to complete the pieces. Although the artist may not physically create each piece, every decision from canvas size to colors to paint placement is made by the artist. The A.R.T. program serves as an outlet for the participants to express themselves.

“I think the participants enjoy being able to have choices and express themselves on canvas,” said Cynthia Perry, who oversees the Max Care program.  She also added that the A.R.T. program gives participants one-on- one time to express their opinions and ideas through their artwork. The Arc Jacksonville is one of the 27 studio programs in the United States.

The Arc Jacksonville uses volunteers to serve as the trackers to the artists. These volunteers have been instrumental in growing the A.R.T program and making it what it is today. Melanie Coughlin and Jeff Walker are two of A.R.T.’s frequent trackers and Ryan Buckley helps frame and hang paintings.

IMG_2873Melanie Coughlin has volunteered as a tracker since 2009 and has been volunteering faithfully once a week. Coughlin is also the mother of one of our artists, Adam Coughlin.  The A.R.T. program was one of the reasons Adam joined the medically fragile program in 2007. Ten of Coughlin’s paintings have been displayed and sold at The Arc’s annual A.R.T. Exhibit. Through Coughlin’s experience as a volunteer tracker she has learned just how much there is to the I/DD population.

“The program gives them a voice,” said Coughlin.  “They have a lot to say, just not a lot of words. But the art is a picture of their conversation.”

Jeff Walker is another tracker who comes to paint with participants every Thursday. Walker has been volunteering since September 2013 and enjoys talking with the artists. Through his experience he’s learning that each artist has their own ways of communicating. “Their personalities are fantastic,” he said. “My life is richer by knowing them.”

Ryan Buckley has been responsible for mounting and hanging A.R.T. paintings since 2006. He is the owner of Gallery Framery located on Hendricks Avenue.  Buckley was introduced to the program when he was asked to assist with framing the artwork. Since that introduction, Buckley has volunteered his time to stretch and frame all canvas and provides set-up and break-down for all exhibits. Buckley has even created custom displays for the A.R.T. artwork which allows exhibits to be set up anywhere.

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Although many of our A.R.T. paintings can be seen at both the Downtown and Westside locations, this artwork has been displayed throughout the city of Jacksonville. Exhibitions have been held at Everbank, Florida Blue, City Hall, the Spring Home and Patio Show and the Mayor’s Office.

All A.R.T. paintings are for sale and more than 78 paintings have been sold to-date. For every painting sold 50% of the proceeds go directly to the artist and the other 50% is used for funding program supplies. If you are interested in hosting an exhibit or purchasing a painting please contact Ami Caswell for more information at

Written by Alex McClain, Development VISTA

Meet A.R.T. Tracker Jeff Walker

IMG_3463Jeff Walker first learned of the A.R.T. Program in 2010 through an employee event while working at Citi Bank. However, it was years later before he became involved with the program.

“It was always in the back of my mind,” said Walker. “Between my job and school, I almost literally had no time.” Later when things began to slow down and spread out, Walker was able to pursue volunteering. In 2013 Walker began volunteering with The Arc Jacksonville as an A.R.T. tracker.

The A.R.T. program works with The Arc Jacksonville’s medically fragile participants who have severe physical disabilities as well as developmental disabilities. The program uses trackers who volunteer and serve as surrogate hands for the artists. Walker admits that one of his biggest challenges as a tracker is learning each artist’s personality and communication style. He understands that although many of the artists are non-verbal, each has their own unique way of communicating, whether it’s tilting their head a certain way or raising their hands.

Every Thursday when Walker volunteers he wears the same brown shirt. Although it may be 10 years old it isn’t your typical shirt; Walker has made plans to turn this shirt into a gift.

“Once it becomes filled with enough paint marks, I plan to frame it and donate it to The Arc,” he said.   Walker found that the artists like to see him get paint on himself.  “It started out with me being lazy and wiping paint on myself, but then the artists laughed at me and seemed to like it.” He explained that every paint mark is a unique color from each artists and it reminds him of each of their personalities.

Walker’s experience as an A.R.T. tracker has taught him the importance of volunteering and the profound effects it can have on the lives of others. “If I can help get a piece of artwork made, I feel I’ve had a positive influence on an artist life,” he said.  “Without a volunteer that art may never have been realized.”

He plans to volunteer with The Arc Jacksonville for a long time. “This is the first time I’ve volunteered for anything that I felt actually benefited my community,” said Walker. He hopes that volunteering as a tracker continues to be the best experience of his life.

Written by Alex McClain, Development VISTA

OCT: A Complete College Experience

Hosted at the University of North Florida (UNF), On Campus Transition (OCT) is a program that provides students with intellectual and developmental disabilities the opportunity to have a full college experience while also learning to live independently. JG_09272013_-2383

Through the program, students audit classes, join campus organizations and participate in various recreational and leisure activities enjoyed by all UNF students. OCT students are also mentored by their peers in both academic and social activities.

Through practical hands-on-experience, students learn various skills such as time management, socialization, determination and self-discipline. Students also learn how to access resources at the university and in the community that are geared toward their specific interest areas.  Students are encouraged to take part in community events and activities, whether it be attending an athletic game or attending an off-campus event.


While a big part of OCT focuses on the academic and social life of students, another component of the program is ensuring that students learn and maintain healthy lifestyles.

As part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, students were recently given a tour of the produce section of the Publix at The St. John’s Town Center. Led by Assistant Produce Manager, Nick Gettino, the tour taught the students about different produce types, their origin and cultivation methods.  The students were also shown how to pick out the best produce and how to tell when certain fruits, like melon and cantaloupe, are ready for eating.  Gettino also informed the students on the importance of eating healthy and making sure to include the proper amount of fruits and vegetables in their diets.

Living a healthy lifestyle isn’t just about buying the right foods, it is also about proper preparation. OCT students participate in a cooking class twice a month. In the class students decide which food items will be prepared and cooked. Students work with members of AmeriCorps to learn different skills in preparing and handling food because a healthy lifestyle is more than eating the right foods. Students also take part in a daily fitness regime which can include things such as tennis, swimming or yoga. JG_09272013_-2419

OCT looks to provide students with a complete experience of college life through an array of opportunities that allow students to grow and learn independently while experiencing the socialization and community life of the average college student.

Written by Alex McClain, AmeriCorp VISTA

Promoting healthy choices

Winnie Brutus, the current AmeriCorps Health Corps Wellness Coordinator for the Arc Jacksonville, has served since September of 2013. Brutus believes everyone should be able to live full and fruitful lives, and she promotes healthy choices daily when working with the 23 participants in her program.

“We cannot function properly if our minds and bodies are not in good health; therefore, I believe that everyone’s health needs should be met regardless of sex, ethnicity, cultural backgrounds, etc,” said Brutus.

Every morning, she takes one to three individuals for small group sessions in the gym, where the participants work out on elliptical machines, stationary bicycles, and do minor weight training.  She allows each person to determine what they wish to work on, providing gentle instruction and guidance as they exercise.

Healthy Habits

After the gym session, Brutus spends an hour discussing healthy living with her class of 10-12 students.  Her goal is to encourage thinking about their health in a holistic manner instead of about typical health topics such as exercise or diet.  Areas covered include: sleep, stress management, disease prevention, and women’s health issues.

To keep a fun atmosphere, Brutus uses a “wellness rewards system” to give participants an incentive to engage in healthy behaviors, such as coming to her public health class, eating  healthy food, or even being kind to another person.  These actions earn participants “wellness bucks,” which they can later redeem in prize drawings.

Even though Brutus encourages participants to make healthy living choices and checks their weight on a regular basis, she is challenged by being unable to keep consistent track of the participants’ individual improvements outside the program. Because of this, she concentrates primarily on whether she has affected behavior rather than on weight alone.

“I can’t go home with them and keep track of their eating habits,” she said. “I tend to track what I can see.  As long as the participants are exercising, I know I’m doing my job.”

Winnie takes solace knowing that what she does can truly improve the quality of life of those she teaches, “I feel that helping people understand certain health issues and educating them on ways that they can improve their overall health (mind, body, spirit) is a way to help bridge the gap of health disparities.”

By Andrew Sun
AmeriCorp VISTA

Triumph Industries: A Good Day’s Work

Triumph Industries provides participants at The Arc Jacksonville with an opportunity to increase their job skills, review workplace etiquette and improve their independent living skills by working with a contract to assemble boxes for Vistakon. These boxes are used to ship contact lenses out to customers.

Before my visit to Triumph Industries I had some assumptions of what participants did all day while they worked. I had no idea about the process of completing a work order. I assumed boxes were boxes.  After my visit I realized that wasn’t the case and that more details are involved than meet the eye.


I gained a new perspective when I learned about the different kinds of boxes and the effort used to put them together. I was slightly overwhelmed at the amount of detail it involved. Depending on the type, each box is folded a certain way. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. I had to ask a participant to show me numerous times before I could successfully fold a box on my own. It was obvious the participants had more patience than I did and better hand-eye coordination.

There are seven different types of boxes and depending on  the day’s work order , participants have to fill 180-600 boxes per pallet. The number of pallets done in a day also varies based on the work order. On average participants fill five to eight pallets a day  day. Participants may also work on smaller contracts throughout the day, including bundling hangers and bags, and brochure packaging.

Participants worked at a steady pace, and most had a signature flow to make sure their work was completed on time. They were diligent and very detail oriented. Some of the participants were so skilled it seemed as if their movements had become second nature.


The floor staff plays a key role in the participants experience at Triumph Industries. Floor staff is responsible for supervising and training the participants.

“We help train the participants so that they can be more efficient at what they do,” said Joella Mack, who has worked with The Arc Jacksonville since 1998.

Every participant is different in the amount of training they may need.  But the goal is to help improve upon the skills they already have.

Participants showed excitement about their working experience, and seemed to enjoy being together.

“What I’ve learned while working with the participants is that it’s not [always] about the work,” said Demetris Robinson, who has worked for The Arc Jacksonville for 12 years. “For them it’s about coming for the social aspect. They enjoy being around their peers and the socialization aspect of working.”

I’ve learned not to make assumptions before experiencing things for yourself. I have a new respect for the work the participants do for Triumph Industries.

By: Alex McClain

AmeriCorp VISTA

A Trip to the Zoo

As an AmeriCorps VISTA member we typically don’t have a lot of hands-on interaction with the people we serve at The Arc Jacksonville. However, as a VISTA member working in the development department, and as the newly assigned in-house photographer, I get to go on some interesting adventures and get to interact with our clients in a way that most VISTA members don’t.

One of my recent trips included accompanying a group on a field trip to the Jacksonville Zoo.

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The trip was a success. Not only was I able to take some great photos, but I got to hang out with some pretty cool people. This is the first time that I have found the task of taking pictures more difficult than usual.  One of the main reasons was because for once, instead of just photographing the participants as my “subjects” I found that I was getting to know them personally. I didn’t feel like I was there on an assignment, but that I was a part of the group enjoying the day with everyone else.

Through talking to them I found out a lot about each of them. I learned who had never been to the zoo before and which animals were their favorites.  A lot of them joked about the animals being their family members and long lost cousins and they liked to keep things moving – very rarely did we stay at one exhibit for too long!


Since I’ve been working at The Arc Jacksonville, one of my personal goals has been how to develop healthy relationships with people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. This trip helped me break down barriers that I had when interacting with people. I tend to be shy but this helped break me out of my comfort zone. Everyone was naturally talkative and friendly so the conversations were never dull. I could tell that they were happy to hang out with me and were completely accepting of who I was.

I’m excited for my next assignment so that I can get to know more about our participants.

Written by: Alex McClain


Max Care: A Place of Safety and Friendships

Thirteen years ago, Cynthia Perry was hired by The Arc Jacksonville to help start a program for medically fragile participants.  Max Care is the culmination of her work over the years.

The Max Care program currently has 15 participants, many of whom have significant medical needs in addition to intellectual and developmental disabilities. Because of physical limitations, such as cerebral palsy or seizure disorder, most are in wheelchairs. As an LPN, Perry is trained in handling participants with tube feeders, catheters, colostomies and in providing participants their medication as needed.

Staff in the Max Care program are interactive with participants through various activities. They lead them in exercise, discuss current events, play musical selections and even talk about cooking tips.

“When you work with the participants day-to-day, you begin to learn about them,” said Perry. “Over time you see how they respond to things.”

She explained that most participants will respond either through sounds or  body language such as a head nod or moving of the hands or eyes.  Some participants may even respond to their name being called. These are key methods of communication between staff and participants.

Each participant has their own distinct personality. Perry explained how she and staff members will talk the participants through certain activities.

“Every activity we do, we try to talk through it, whether it’s personal care, feeding, wiping of the mouth or a recreational activity,” said Perry. She said the goal is to understand a person’s body language to get a sense of their likes or dislikes.

Perry is proud that the Max Care program  helps to provide the participants with a safe social environment.

“We all need to develop friendships and have a safe environment in order to thrive and feel comfortable,” said Perry. “Max Care gives participants a place to learn and socialize, and it’s a place that their family members feel is safe to bring them.”

Perry said that over the years she has enjoyed the people she serves and that she enjoys seeing them grow.

“It’s been a great experience,” Perry said. “I wish more people would check out [working with] this population ( persons I/DD) because the baton is going to have to be passed on.”


IMG_2800 edited

Tonya Gravely throws the ball back and forth with Max Care director, Cynthia Perry.

Eliu creates dots for his artwork.

Eliu Quinones creates dots for his artwork.

Written by:

Alexandra McClain

AmeriCorp, VISTA

Funding for The Arc Village Approved

Jacksonville, FL, December 13, 2013– The Board of The Florida Housing Finance Corporation today approved an award of almost $10.8 million in affordable housing tax credits plus $4.5 million in state funds (including a $1.5 million developmental disability grant) for construction of The Arc Village, a planned neighborhood for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to be located near the intersection of Hodges and Beach Boulevards. These funds will be added to $2.4 million pledged in community philanthropy to secure the $17.7 million necessary for The Arc Jacksonville to move forward with The Village project. A gap of $4 million in additional philanthropy is needed to complete The Arc Village campaign.  Groundbreaking for The Arc Village project is anticipated in late Spring 2014, and completion of construction is expected in Spring 2015.

The affordable housing tax credit program is governed by the U.S. Department of Treasury, under provisions of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 and the Internal Revenue Code.  Funds are allocated according to population to states for distribution.  The program in Florida is operated by The Florida Housing Finance Corporation (FHFC).  The Florida Housing board announced the award to The Arc Village project at their meeting in Orlando.

Private philanthropy raised during The Arc Jacksonville’s capital campaign “silent phase” was critical to accompany the tax credit award and additional state grant funding in order to provide a total of an estimated $17.7 million necessary for initial construction and development for The Arc Village.  The additional $4 million being sought will fund furnishings for common areas, vehicles, equipment, core staff training, start-up operations and an endowment.


The Arc Jacksonville is a 501(c)3 nonprofit advocacy and assistance organization established in 1965 to serve adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Approximately 400 adults benefit daily from day programs, residential homes, young adult experiences and services in employment, mental health and behavior modification.

If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Judy Hall Lanier, Director of Development at 904.355.0155 or email at

The Arc Jacksonville Announces 2013 Employee of The Year

Employee of the Year 2013

Employee of the Year, Shanikka DeCosta (middle) accepts award with Jim Whittaker, Executive Director, and William Adams, Program Director

The Arc Jacksonville recognized Shanikka DeCosta as 2013 Employee of the Year at the organization’s annual meeting November 21.

Shanikka, a second-year employee, primarily works in the Arc’s Life Skills program at the downtown location, and when needed, she assists the PsychoSocial Rehabilitation team.

Program director William Adams noted in Shanikka’s nomination her commitment to continuous improvement and her team spirit, saying, “Shanikka makes the programs she is working in better and typically raises the bar for her colleagues.” Adams continued, “She supports her peers by striving to keep the workplace fun!”

Congratulations Shanikka!


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