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Guest Post: Florida Backyard

The “Patio Girl” at The Arc Jacksonville Village

Written by: Victoria Wirtz, Florida Backyard Store Manager

When most people think about a business they think about income, sales, and how to increase profits.  Just like most business owners, they have to make sure decisions are made in the best interest of the company. Florida Backyard is a small, family owned and operated company that has been in business for almost 20 years.  You probably have seen some of our work at your favorite local restaurant, or even at your community pool.  We have been installing high end furnishings in the Jacksonville area since 2000.

Bernadette Moran came to meet with me and discussed the plans for The Village. I knew right then that this was something that I wanted to be a part of!  I was so excited!  I still needed to talk to the owners and see if this was even possible.  As far as I knew Florida Backyard had never done a project like this.

The Ebels are very special people to me. Yes they are business owners, but they also hold a special place in their hearts for people with disabilities.

The Village was going to open in a quick year, and Florida Backyard agreed to donate all of the outdoor furniture for the entire project.  We were able to donate everything from the pool furniture, to firepits and benches around the property.  Each porch was graced with two big comfy chairs for socializing and relaxing.  Now I am known around the campus as the “Patio Girl” and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

I saw The Village blossom from pen and paper to Club Arc on Friday nights!  The project and the people involved have now become my friends and family.  I have personally been involved with The Village, not only as the sales representative for all of the outdoor furnishings, but also as co-chair of the Young Professionals Council, and an active volunteer at The Village.

Florida Backyard by Ebel, Inc. is a family owned company founded in 1988 with the first showrooms opening in 2000. Florida Backyard offers merchandise for any outdoor setting including outdoor furniture, patio furniture, pool furniture, fire pits and more.

What’s Next for Christine ‘Chrisy’ Pearre

When Christine “Chrisy” Pearre started volunteering with The Arc Jacksonville seven years ago, she never expected it would change her life. Three years later, she joined The Arc Jacksonville team as a Community Living Coach. Through her volunteer work, Chrisy discovered her passion, leading her to take “the next step” in her career.

“I found my fit at The Arc Jacksonville,” said Chrisy. “I enjoy what I do, and I feel like what I do matters.”

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As a Community Living Coach, Chrisy serves as a liaison between The Arc Jacksonville, families and local agencies. She works closely with participants in the Adult Day Training Program (ADT), helping them to set and achieve personal goals. She also develops and implements programming for alternative training and community integration. She enjoys making a genuine connection with program participants, having a positive impact and making others around her feel valued.

“She is nice and works hard,” said Henry M., an ADT program participant. Henry enjoys visiting her office to talk and described her as helpful and encouraging.

Chrisy appreciates that The Arc Jacksonville is always looking for “what’s next” for the people we serve.  “We continue to push boundaries in how we can take the next step forward,” she said.

“We’ve increased the power of choice by allowing our participants to have other options and activities throughout the work day.” With the help of other team members, Chrisy started weekly group sessions on scrapbooking, yoga, exercise and more.

“The goal is to help participants develop power to love their life through choices,” she said.

For Chrisy, volunteering at The Arc Jacksonville was the answer to “what’s next?”

“The Arc has helped me find my home,” said Chrisy. “There’s a good connection here.”

What’s Next for Jermaine

Jermaine began attending The Arc Jacksonville’s Day Training Program and Mental Health Services program in 2009. When Jermaine started, he described himself as shy and not easy to communicate with. Through weekly group sessions, Jermaine has improved his communication skills and day–to-day interaction with his peers.

“The Arc has helped me to become more confident in my ability to do more things for myself,” he said.

Along with improved communication skills, The Arc Jacksonville has also helped Jermaine live independently through The Arc Jacksonville Village.

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“Before I came to The Arc Jacksonville I wasn’t sure what steps to take to live on my own,” he said.

Jermaine says it was comforting to have The Arc Jacksonville helping him through the process. “It was nice to have help so I didn’t have to do it by myself,” he said.

Now that he’s living independently at The Arc Jacksonville Village, he’s excited about his independence.

“Living on my own makes me feel free to make my own choices,” he said.

What’s Next for Robert

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Robert, a resident of The Arc Jacksonville’s Jammes Road group home, decided to see what other Arc services were available to help him reach his goals. After a disappointing and unsuccessful job search, he took a new approach and attended the Day Training Program at the downtown location.
“My initial goal was to make as much money as possible until I could find something better,” he said. Instead, what he found was an opportunity to grow and take an unexpected step forward.
Robert was recently offered a position as an Arc Jacksonville AmeriCorps member. Shocked at having been considered for a position, yet unsure of the responsibility, he turned it down. However, after being encouraged by a staff member and previous AmeriCorps member, Robert finally decided to accept the position.“It showed me that they believed in my ability, even when I didn’t,” he said. He was proud to have others in his corner so that he didn’t feel alone. Having their encouragement helped him take a new step in life and realize more of his own potential.He appreciates The Arc Jacksonville for providing opportunities to explore different things. “The Arc is really big on [saying] that people with disabilities aren’t defined by their limitations,” he said. 

Robert is still getting used to his new position but is excited to have made the transition from participant to AmeriCorps member.

“The Arc has helped me grow as a person and I look forward to the next year as an AmeriCorps member,” he said. Serving as an AmeriCorps member will push him outside of his comfort zone and increase his social and communication skills.

“I am thankful for the opportunity,” he said. Because of The Arc Jacksonville, Robert feels he has a clear idea about his next step in life.


Welcome to The Team! New Faces at The Arc Jacksonville

We would like to welcome a few new faces to our Arc Jacksonville team.  We are excited to have them aboard to help us further our mission in serving the disability community.

Lana Petry – On Campus Transition Residential Coordinator

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As the new On Campus Transition Residential Coordinator, Lana is passionate about helping students reach their full potential through The Arc Jacksonville’s college program.

“Although they may have different obstacles to overcome than others, they still have the ability and right to learn, love, live and follow whatever path they choose,” she said.

Lana is proud to be a part of an agency that is a leader in changing the way individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are viewed.

“Watching the students get excited to learn about life beyond living at home with their parents, and realizing they have options to do so much on their own, is extremely exciting,” she said.


Justin Humphrey –  Operations Coordinator, The Arc Jacksonville Village

20160701_135819As the Operations Coordinator of The Arc Jacksonville Village, Justin will facilitate the support planning process, and coordinate Arc operations and transportation.

Justin brings enthusiasm to The Arc Jacksonville team and enjoys developing relationships with both The Arc Jacksonville staff and Village residents.

“Those relationships are dear to me,” he said. Justin feels that since day one, The Arc Jacksonville team has been hospitable to him.

He looks forward to helping effect improvements for the disability community. He sees every day as a new opportunity to help meet the needs of The Arc Jacksonville Village residents and community.


Sara McMillan – Vice President, Development

IMG_3377 Close Crop FinalBefore joining The Arc Jacksonville team, Sara spent over seven years working with United Way of Northeast Florida and their fund development team. During her time at United Way, Sara became familiar with The Arc Jacksonville and similar nonprofit organizations.

“I’m passionate about helping people and that’s one of the reasons I came here,” she said.

Sara loves The Arc Jacksonville’s mission and sees a great opportunity to build upon established fundraising efforts. She brings with her community connections and expertise that will strengthen the agency’s public awareness and fundraising efforts. She looks forward to furthering The Arc Jacksonville’s mission and growing reputation for quality service for the community.

Sara is working with Judy Hall Lanier to develop a smooth transition of responsibilities as Judy approaches her retirement from The Arc Jacksonville and a career in marketing/communications/development spanning for decades.


Bernadette Gismonde– On Campus Transition Director

Bernadette Gismonde brings tenacity and passion to her new position as the On Campus Transition Director. She has spent much of her career working in the field with people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. Before joining The Arc Jacksonville, Bernadette worked for The Arc of Salem County as well as a similar college transition program for several years.

She is proud to join The Arc Jacksonville and become part of a team working hard to help young adults achieve their full potential.

“The organization truly lives and breathes its mission of independence and inclusion making The Arc Jacksonville stand out for pushing the community towards understanding and acceptance,” she said. “I would like to help each student meet their goals while allowing them the independence they need in order to transition to their next phase of life.”

Bernadette looks forward to having a transformative year for both herself and the OCT students.

Turning a House into a Home

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While 750 square feet may not seem like a lot of space, prominent interior designer and Arc Jacksonville board member, R. Ward Lariscy has proven that it’s the perfect amount.

That’s the size of each of the 97 affordable apartments at The Arc Jacksonville Village, where adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities will live independently. The apartments feature individual bedrooms and bathrooms and a shared kitchen and living room.

Three apartments, one two-bedroom and two one-bedrooms, serve as model units. Sticking to a budget of approximately $2,500 per unit, Ward completely furnished and decorated each apartment, transforming them into unique living spaces with a distinct personality.

To stay within budget and to show that a little can make a big impact, Ward visited resale shops, discount stores, outlets and major retail chains throughout Jacksonville. Each unit features a different theme, which took shape once a major piece, such as a sofa, was found. Accent pieces and décor items were then selected to perfect the look.

Ward’s favorite apartment became the British-themed model home.  “It reminded me of all the years I used to travel to England to buy antiques for my business and clients,” he said.

“It was not my usual decorating project, but it was rewarding!” Ward said. The smiling faces of future residents and compliments from all who have visited the models, Ward explained, were his most meaningful compensation.

Ward’s involvement didn’t stop, or begin, there. Ward was instrumental in decorating the community center, the hub of The Arc Jacksonville Village. At the community center residents check their mail, access the internet, pay rent, watch movies, eat dinner, participate in activities and much more. Decorated with bright colors, eye-catching artwork, modern furniture and interesting accents, Ward created a vibrant, inviting environment for residents, staff and volunteers.

A number of Ward’s colleagues helped bring his vision to life, including First Coast Designers Choice, American Society of Interior Designers, Janice Young, Ann Wingate, First Coast Supply, and Mark Timmons. To all, The Arc Jacksonville sends a “Big Thank You!”

Innovation Grant Awarded to The Arc Jacksonville

 Continued from March’s E-Newsletter link:

The Riverside Hospital Foundation Innovation Grant will help launch a pilot project between The Arc Jacksonville and area educational institutions to establish internships where nursing students will be in direct contact with adults with I/DD, enabling them to experience firsthand the specialized health needs of this population and the challenges to communication that are presented in treating persons with I/DD. Such opportunity to advance understanding and knowledge of patients with I/DD has not been included in traditional nurse training programs.

Riverside Trustees chose this philanthropic investment as a means of fulfilling the Riverside Hospital core value to provide innovative, quality care with compassion and concern for each patient’s unique needs.

“We are pleased to have been presented this opportunity to improve the quality of care provided to the specific population of persons with I/DD while advancing the field of nursing education,” said Riverside Hospital Foundation Executive Director Helen Werking. “We will be helping our neighbors with I/DD, nursing students in our five-county area and creating results that are likely to impact nursing curriculums throughout the state and the nation. This investment is an opportunity to effect systemic change.”

“The Arc Jacksonville is privileged to institute this program in philanthropic partnership with The Riverside Hospital Foundation,” said Jim Whittaker, CEO & President of The Arc Jacksonville. “We will learn alongside our constituents with I/DD and the student nurse interns just how to improve the interaction of healthcare professionals with individuals with I/DD. Results will advance individual well-being and knowledge in the fields of special education and healthcare.”

The Riverside Hospital Foundation was established in 1991 as a not-for-profit corporation to foster access to quality healthcare in Northeast Florida. Since established, the Foundation has granted more than $9 million to non-profit organizations primarily serving the five-county Northeast Florida area. The Innovation Grant program was established in 2013 to support new and innovative programs that have measureable outcomes, a self-sustaining endpoint to funding and are translatable and replicable.

About The Arc Jacksonville

The Arc Jacksonville, Inc. was established in 1965 to serve individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Today, the organization has an annual operating budget approaching $8 million and serves approximately 400 individuals daily from three main locations and five group homes. Arc is opening in April 2016 The Arc Jacksonville Village, the nation’s first independent living community for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In addition to the direct services programs, The Arc Jacksonville serves as a source of information and support for Northeast Florida families of persons with disabilities through its advocacy program, called A.S.K. (Advocacy, Support and Knowledge).

For more information, please contact Judy Hall Lanier at 

The True Impact of Service

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Katie Shaneyfelt: AmeriCorps Member

When Katie Shaneyfelt began volunteering with The Arc Jacksonville in October 2014 she had no idea it would be life changing.

She started as a Club Arc volunteer at The Arc Jacksonville’s Westside location, looking to fulfill volunteer hours needed for a course at Florida State College of Jacksonville.

Unlike previous volunteer experiences, once Katie completed her hours she continued to volunteer because she had fallen in love with the people. “I had never felt more at home. They became my best friends,” she said.

Katie’s passion led her to accept a grant-funded position with The Arc Jacksonville, where she was able to work hands-on with the agency’s volunteer program for a year. While in the position, her passion for working with adults with disabilities grew, leading her to change her major from Animation to Art Therapy.

“Before I was a part of The Arc Jacksonville, I struggled with what I wanted to do in life,” Katie said. Being around The Arc participants and staff has helped Katie realize she wants to do more than just create art. She wants to use art to help others and make a lasting impact on their life.

Katie was further inspired through her work with The Arc Jacksonville to pursue a Best Buddies chapter for FSCJ. “I’ve always wanted to be a part of Best Buddies, and I wanted to bring it to my college campus,” she said. Katie saw the Best Buddies project as a way to expand community advocacy for adults with disabilities.

When Katie’s grant-funded position ended in 2015, she continued her involvement with The Arc Jacksonville by becoming an AmeriCorps member. As a member she recruits additional AmeriCorps members and volunteers to serve throughout the agency. Her background with The Arc Jacksonville made her AmeriCorps experience more meaningful.

“If I hadn’t volunteered through Club Arc, I don’t think I would appreciate my AmeriCorps experience as much,” she said. Katie is inspired by the passion she shares with her fellow AmeriCorps members and values how involved they are in the program.

As Ghandi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” For Katie, volunteering did just that. What began as fulfilling a requirement for a college class quickly morphed into friendships, connections and opportunities and a career path.

“I never expected volunteering to turn into a job, or go past friendships,” said Katie. “I’ve come to value it more now that I can see the true impact.”

Giving Tuesday is December 1st, 2015

Giving Tuesday 2015 Logo

Tuesday, December 1st will mark the fourth year for #GivingTuesday, a day of giving following the popular Black Friday and Cyber Monday Holidays. Started in 2012, #GivingTuesday was created as a way to unite individuals and organizations for the purpose of giving back to their communities. Since its conception, #GivingTuesday has become a global movement that supports the spirit of giving.

How to Help:

If you are looking to get involved and give back to your community this #GivingTuesday, please consider giving to The Arc Jacksonville. A significant portion of The Arc’s general operating costs are not covered by fee-for-service. We rely on fundraisers and donations to help cover these costs. In honor of #GivingTuesday, we are asking for your support of The Arc Jacksonville. Donations will help to fund all programs and services offered by The Arc Jacksonville.

Donations can be made through our website at or please send all donations to:

The Arc Jacksonville

Attn: Development Department

1050 North Davis Street

Jacksonville, FL 32209

Mission Moment: A.S.K at The Arc Jacksonville

The Arc Jacksonville’s Advocacy department, better known as A.S.K. (Advocacy, Support and Knowledge), is a rich resource in providing assistance and outreach to the disability community. The advocacy department consists of Charlotte Temple, Vice President of Advocacy and Denise Torres, Advocacy Specialist. Advocacy is the only department in the agency that serves people with disabilities through-out the life span. Of the many services and resources they provide, information about the protection of rights, guardianship/guardian advocacy is a question that comes up often among parents and guardians.

Guardianship/Guardian Advocacy helps caregivers protect the rights of their loved ones with a disability.

It is encouraged that families begin to consider guardianship/guardian advocacy before the person with a disability turns 18, if they have a significant intellectual disability. Once they turn 18, they are of legal age and according to state law, the person is of age to make all legal decisions.   Education rights and decisions are transferred to the student from the parent(s)/caregiver(s).

The Advocacy department helps families to understand the many legal ways of assisting their son or daughter with legal decisions.  If it becomes necessary to obtain more formal rights to assist with decision making, the department provides information about the guardian and the guardian advocacy processes. Guardianship is for anyone that does not have the ability to make decisions.  Guardian Advocacy is only for those individuals who have an intellectual disability and developmental disability.

Guardianship and guardian advocacy generally only address areas of a person’s life where they are unable to make decisions and need protection.  The most common concerns are in the areas of medical decisions and the ability to negotiate government benefits and services.  Next, are usually in the area of finance and the ability to understand and enter into a contract.  Most guardianships and guardian advocacies are limited to the areas in which the individual needs assistance.

The Advocacy department assists families/caregivers with information on where to turn to seek professional assistance with the process.  Attorney representation is necessary for guardianship.  Individuals can represent themselves with guardian advocacy, but most are reluctant to do so and seek an attorney to assist them.  For those families who have limited resources, the Advocacy department assists them with locating reduced cost or free legal services in the community.

Christina Rivers recently worked with our advocacy department to assist in obtaining guardian advocacy for her son. “I had a wonderful experience working with the Advocacy department,” she said.  They were able to explain the guardian advocacy process and help Rivers obtain the help she needed for her 18 year old son, Christian.

“I appreciate Ms. Torres going all out. She was excellent and supportive,” said Rivers.

For more information on our advocacy program and assistance with guardianship, please visit

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