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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.”


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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!


Shop at AmazonSmile and Donate to The Arc Jacksonville


This holiday season spend more time with friends and family and less time in crowded stores by shopping online through AmazonSmile. Not only will shopping online give you more time to spend with your loved ones, but you can give back to The Arc Jacksonville as well.

SmileAmazon is operated by Amazon and offers the same features, products, low prices and convenient shopping as The only difference is that by visiting instead, the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of your purchase to The Arc Jacksonville.

Choosing The Arc Jacksonville is simple! Simply type into the address bar and the first time you visit you will be asked to choose a charity. Type in The Arc Jacksonville and your browser will remember your selection each time you visit. By using AmazonSmile to purchase your gifts this holiday season, you will be giving to The Arc as you give to others. AmazonSmile is not just for the holidays – use AmazonSmile for all of your purchases and give back year-round.

Arc Jacksonville

Celebrity Coaches Add Sparkle To Arc After Dark!

Some of Jacksonville’s best known communicators are pitching in to help The Arc Jacksonville program staff present their innovative ideas at Arc After Dark. They will be out to capture your votes for:

Employment:  U.S. Olympic Team qualifier and motivational guru Almon Gunter and Nikki Preed Kimbleton of the TV-4 Morning Show are joining forces to help captivate Arc After Dark attendees with a “win-win” plan for The Arc job coaches.  Susan Hamilton and her staff want to become super successful in attracting new community employers for Arc “job-seeking” individuals.  The employment team will be flexing their sales/marketing muscles to win support for more power training to boost community job placements for The Arc, plus enhance Jacksonville’s workplace diversity.

Residential: Sharon Wilbur, the Face of Fox 30, and pop culture expert Kerry Speckman of Jacksonville Magazine are coaching the residential team to add some “Wow factor” to their pitch for votes (and the $10,000 innovation prize).  Janet Lawrence and her team want to add a comprehensive  nutrition/exercise/wellness program to all Arc group homes.  Their plan calls for creating a raised-bed garden for daily supplies of fresh fruits and vegetables.  To keep residents active, rain or shine, the group also wants to purchase multi-purpose exercise equipment for each home.

Day Programs:  Broadcast journalists Tracy Collins and Staci Spanos are helping William Adams, Pat Goff and their team explain how their “back to the future” innovation will help participants “earn while they learn”  and create an Arc micro-enterprise.  Their idea is to creatively re-purpose junked furniture, tools, and home accessories and build a market for these “up-cycled,” one-of-a-kind objects d’art.  Tracy and Staci know how to tell the story, and they are sharing tips that are sure to capture attention and votes for establishing an Arc cottage industry that creates charm from the ordinary.

OCT Educational Experience: The tech-savvy First Coast News Morning Team — Jacob Long, Lindsey Boetsch and Katie Jefferies – and the students and staff of the Arc’s OCT program at UNF are pitching for votes to institute “I Can Make It On My Own,” an app-based journey to self-reliance. OCT students strive to improve communication, time management, financial management and other life skills that applications customized for the Apple iPad are designed to support – at less cost than paid coaches. Plus they’ve recruited professionals to create new apps where supports are lacking.  It’s taking the OCT experience toward possibilities far out in cyber-space!

Arc After Dark is being held on Wednesday, October 16, 2013 at the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront. For more information on the event and to purchase tickets, visit the Arc After Dark event page.

Wonderful new ways to support The Arc Jacksonville.

The Nonprofit Center of Northeast is helping local nonprofits raise much needed funds through two unique opportunities: and Give & Go One Hundred. is an online marketplace operated by the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida to connect the community to local nonprofits.  Give & Go One Hundred provides discounted tickets to Jacksonville Jaguars home games with a portion of each ticket sale going to a participating organization. – Club Arc
The Arc Jacksonville has posted a project on to benefit Club Arc. The money raised through this project will be used to expand Club Arc’s weekly and monthly activities, as well as provide additional opportunities for adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) to attend.

Club Arc hosts adults with I/DD every Friday night at The Arc Jacksonville’s Westside location from 6-9 p.m. Once a month, a special themed event takes the place of the usual Friday night activities.

Through the project, community members can make donations  of $10, $25, $50, $75 or $100 to support Club Arc.  Please visit The Arc Jacksonville’s project page to learn more about how your donations will impact the future of Club Arc.

GIVE & GO ONE HUNDRED  - Support the Jaguars, Support The Arc Jacksonville
Purchase preseason and regular season tickets to the Jacksonville Jaguars home games through the Give & Go website and up to $30 will be donated to The Arc Jacksonville per ticket!

The Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida has partnered with  Jacksonville Jaguars, The Jaguars Foundation, the DuBow Family Foundation and to provide this exciting opportunity to not only support local nonprofits but the Jacksonville Jaguars as well.

For every ticket you purchase to a Jaguars home game, a $10 donation will automatically be made to The Arc Jacksonville – a great way to support The Arc Jacksonville and the Jacksonville Jaguars!

Best of all, it’s so simple to do! Click here for The Arc Jacksonville’s Give & Go website and pick the game(s) you would like to attend. Then, just choose your seats (you can even choose seats in specific sections), fill out the requested information and $10 per ticket will go directly to The Arc Jacksonville!

Once 25 tickets have been purchased, the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida will match the $10 donation dollar for dollar, increasing the donation per ticket to $20. It can get even better – once 100 tickets are purchased, the match becomes 3-to-1, and $30 per ticket is donated to The Arc Jacksonville!

Make sure that all of your home game tickets are purchased through The Arc Jacksonville’s Give & Go website to easily support us and the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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