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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


IMG_5024 -edited

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

Program Spotlight: PSR

IMG_4266 EditedThe Arc Jacksonville’s Psychosocial Rehabilitation Program (PSR) provides therapeutic education in a group setting for individuals with an intellectual or developmental disability that have also been diagnosed with a mental health concern.The program also provides services for adults without I/DD.

Participants take part in group therapy sessions that provide the opportunity for open dialogue with their peers to discuss what’s happening in their community and how they fit in. During these sessions counselors stress independent living and social skills. The utilize role playing to give participants practical application of the various skills.

Participants are also taught the different signs and symptoms of their own diagnoses as well as other common mental diagnoses. Armed with this knowledge participants learn how to better manage their own behavior as well as be able to help others who may also have mental diagnoses.

“Mental Health is probably one of the most misunderstood issues in society,” said Lisa Austin, PSR Program Manager. “Many (participants) are afraid to let people know they have mental diagnoses. They are afraid of how they will be treated when overall they want to be treated like everyone else,” she said.

IMG_4282 editedParticipants work with counselors to set goals on an annual basis and these goals are evaluated every six months. These goals are based on the individual’s needs and range anywhere from forming positive relationships with others to finding employment to living more independently.

The program strives to make everyone’s experience unique, based on individual strengths and goals. The aim of PSR is to help participants live an independent life in society. “I hope that they’re able to grow within the program and do better than society expects them to,” said Austin.

Success Stories

- The PSR program helped a gentleman land a steady volunteer position with The Jacksonville Zoo. Through his experience in the program he learned social and communication skills like speaking more slowly and clearly and how to handle confrontation. Initially he attended the PSR program three days a week. Due to his success in the program he now only attends once a week and volunteers with the zoo four days of the week. He hopes that volunteering will eventually lead to a paid position.

- A woman came into the program battling depression and substance abuse. As her time in the program came to a close, she was able to secure employment and use the skills she learned to continue to address her substance concerns through meetings. She checks in regularly with the Mental Health staff, and they proudly enjoy seeing the increase in her self-confidence.

Written by: Alexandra McClain, AmeriCorps Development VISTA

Andrew Sun: Service Well Done

Andrew SunThe Arc Jacksonville proudly participates as a service site for AmeriCorps VISTA. Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) members commit to full-time employment for at least one year at a nonprofit or public agency to serve on a specific project. The Arc Jacksonville has provided service for six VISTA members for the past two years.

VISTA member, Andrew Sun has been serving at The Arc Jacksonville since May 2012. When he had completed his initial term, The Arc Jacksonville was lucky to have him choose to serve an additional year.

“I became a VISTA because I was interested in working in the nonprofit field,” said Sun.

As the project research/development VISTA, Sun’s service focused on The Arc Village. Sun participated in several subcommittees and helped compose a proposal that resulted in the award of $17.7 million in tax credits, state funds, grants and private philanthropy for the initial construction and development of The Arc Village.

“I enjoyed working on The Arc Village. The project will make a lasting difference for the people who will eventually move in,” he said.

In addition to working on The Arc Village, Sun also taught self-defense classes to the individuals that the organization serves and helped with special events. Sun’s experience at The Arc Jacksonville dispelled an often thought stereotype of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“People with I/DD aren’t a homogeneous group,” he said. “They are a varied group of people with different personalities, morals and ethics.”

As his service comes to a close this month The Arc Jacksonville would like to thank Andrew Sun for his outstanding service! He will be missed!

Written by: Alex McClain, AmeriCorps Development VISTA

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!

Compiled by Alexandra McClain, AmeriCorps VISTA

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

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