HOLIDAY MIRACLE CONTEST

Good Wheels

    GoodWheels - 3ContestGood Wheels , in partnership with the Center if Independent Living and Golisano Children’s Hospital ,  is transporting cognitively challenged senior students in high school to the Center for Independent Living and Golisano Children’s Hospital where they are obtaining training about work and receiving on the job training at Golisano Children’s Hospital for a job which matches their abilities.

This program is preparing these individuals to have dignity and be a contributing member of the community.

The funds to transport the students are 90% provided by the State of Florida.  The remaining 10% must be raised locally. This award will help provide matching funds to prepare cognitively challenged individuals for life.

 

United Community Options

    In the spirit of the holiday season, we would like to share with all of you how United Community Options of South Florida (UCO) has impacted individuals residing in the community and how they’ve made an impact on the community they live in. 

Twice a month, the adults enrolled in the various programs including residential and workshops, volunteer. They volunteer to help those that are less fortunate. For one hour each time, they help serve the homeless. They help to serve those that have almost nothing a hot meal, and perhaps, their only meal that day.  It is their way of giving back to the community in a way that they can. 

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The interaction with their community allows each individual to be able to participate in community integration, team building, and build their self-confidence.  UCO has made a difference in the lives of the adults in the programs. By volunteering, they have continued to pay it forward and impact the community for which they live.

 

New Horizons

 New Horizons of the Treasure Coast: In the Best of Times and the Worst of Times

By Anne C. Lotierzo

New Year’s Eve:  I pulled in to a parking spot, got out of my car and circled around to the passenger side to take out the celebration cakes I had picked up at Publix.  It was a small gesture of appreciation for all the staff who would be welcoming the new year while working.  A voice in the darkness startled me and I nearly dropped the cakes.  I turned around and there stood a young man well-dressed and groomed to perfection and for a moment I thought he may be lost and looking for a New Year’s Eve party.

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“Do you remember me?” he asked.  I paused, well-versed in this challenge over the years I knew my mind would bring him to the forefront in time.  “Hmm,” I replied, “help me out and give me your first name.”

He did, and then we both smiled with recognition.

“It’s been some time…months, almost a year” he said.  “I am so glad you’re working tonight because I had to tell you something.  It’s part of my recovery, I have to say I am sorry, sorry I gave you such a hard time and sorry I wasn’t ready to face my problems.  And thank you, thank you for believing in me, I was ready to give up, but you didn’t let me.  I am so relieved I can say that before we go into the new year.  I am a new man now.”  He extended his hand and we exchanged wishes for the new year.

We reflected on our encounter nearly a year prior when he was ordered to treatment at the request of his mother.  It was a long night of conversations filled with stories and reflections on his life.  It was an unforgettable moment for both of us as he solemnly pondered his very existence and kept repeating the same words over and over, “Is my life worth living?”

His path to recovery and wellness had begun that fateful night at New Horizons with treatment for a previously undiagnosed mental illness and long-standing substance use issues that had interfered with nearly every aspect of his life. After spending time on our inpatient detox unit, he was admitted into our Independence Recovery Program and successfully completed the 28-day treatment.  He began outpatient services in our offices and continued displaying signs of improvement in all areas of his life.  He found his own apartment and began working locally at his first steady job in years.

We crossed paths again some six months ago as I found him sitting outside our Emergency Services door with a friend.  Again, he recognized me first and loudly proclaimed, “It’s me, look at me now!”  He filled in the gaps from the previous months sharing that he was now so confident in his sobriety that he was sharing his story weekly at AA and NA meetings on our campus. “I remember when staff told me I would be able to do this and I doubted myself, but they never let the doubts interfere, I made it through, and I see both sides now and I want success for everyone.”  What a victory!

As he sat on the bench with his friend slowly and patiently encouraging him to take the steps toward recovery that would be life-changing I marveled at this transformed soul.  Truly a privilege to witness with gratitude to the mission of New Horizons of the Treasure Coast embracing the community from the moment of crisis until the victory at the finish line.

 

Twin Oaks Juvenile Development

 

    The mission of Twin Oaks Juvenile Development, Inc. is “to forever touch the lives of those we serve.” We take our mission seriously, and strive to fulfill it every day, by going the extra mile with all of our clients. One specific example of fulfilling this mission came when several staff from one of our programs surprised a former youth, by attending his summer camp robotics showcase in the youth’s home town after he was released from the program that he was committed to. This was done as a show of support and encouragement for the youth. Twin Oaks Juvenile Development, Inc. operates residential and community-based programs for delinquent and dependent youth under contract with the FL Department of Juvenile Justice and the FL Department of Children & Families.

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When this particular youth was first placed in our program, he struggled with pro-social relationships, and he was not making positive choices in his life. As part of his treatment process, and because of his knowledge and skill level with computers, the youth was permitted to help out by setting up computers and helping to troubleshoot technical problems in our classrooms. Because his work, one of the program’s education staff, was determined to capitalize on his technical abilities. She ultimately managed to help the youth to obtain a full scholarship from the Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition (IHMC) Robotics Program in Pensacola. By the end of his time in the program, he had endeared himself to many of the staff, that they wanted to make sure they did everything they could to help him to be successful upon his release. .

Working closely with our transition services program, and the youth’s life coach, upon his release from the program, the residential staff helped to make sure that the he completed the summer camp. He did so well there that the instructor donated his completed project to the youth’s high school, so that other youth can have the opportunity to learn about STEM as well. At the conclusion of the camp session, staff from the residential program there to support him and congratulate him for his hard work.

This is the kind of effort that is necessary to help these kids to be successful. The improvements that he made in his life have been obvious. Our staff goes above and beyond to make sure that this happens.

MACTown

 

The Question was asked to me, How has the MACtown Wellness and Fitness Center benefited the people we serve, Individuals with Autism/Intellectual Disabilities and Employees at MACtown, Inc.?

MACtown’s Wellness and Fitness is the first Wellness and Fitness Center for Individuals with Autism/Intellectual Disabilities in the State of Florida. The gym was awarded to MACtown through an Appropriations by the State of Florida. It has benefited all the clients and employees who have come in contact with it. This means health-wise and/or fitness-wise. As far as the health benefits, some of the clients have seen reductions ranging from drops in high blood pressure, to losses in body fat, decreased body mass index levels, increases in muscle mass and mentally developing discipline where you see routines developed. The clients whom we serve enjoy coming to the gym. The employees have used the gym too and we have seen benefits for them as well.

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The health benefits for the employees range from being on high blood pressure medication, to not being on them at all. From having back pain and taking epidural shots, to no back pain or reduction of back pain. There are stories of losses in weight, body-fat & BMI decreases, less stress and better management of the stress, better attitudes, better work attendance and clients and employees becoming more health conscious as it pertains to their food intake. These instances have even impacted folks outside of MACtown. The Employees in some cases have become Ambassadors of Health & Fitness themselves. They have inspired people in their circles of friends and loved ones to do better. This is true also with the clients as well. For example, an employee lost 100 pounds. However, before the 100 pound loss, when the employee got to the 40-50 pound weight loss mark, a fellow employee got on board and lost 35 pounds as well. That kicked off a frenzy and an increase in employees signing up for the gym. This action then trickled down to family members & friends. Clients and staff watched what they ate. They read the ingredients on the back of the packages, they can tell you if additives found in the food are harmful, and if they can trigger allergies. They also understand the servings, how much a serving size is, and how many servings are available in the packaging or container.

In regards to the benefits fitness wise, we have seen the client’s strength improve as well as the staff. Staff members are more apt to handle the many challenges of their job as a result of using the gym. These challenges can range from helping carry a client up a flight of stairs, de-escalating a situation physically or even carrying equipment. Another improvement we have seen is that clients are now being able to walk from the MACtown campus to the gym without tiring out quickly as they once did before. The endurance of the staff and the clients can be seen when they can walk up and down a flight of stairs repeatedly without getting tired. They enjoy exercising where before it was something they dreaded doing. The ability to walk, stand, jog and run and do so independently, free of pain are benefits of the fitness and wellness program. For some clients, just a simple deed of getting up from a chair, or out of the bed with or without help is a sign of progress. All of these things mentioned are examples of improvements by the individuals of Mactown who use the gym. Ever since the Fitness and Wellness Center has been created, a healthy culture has arrived at MACtown. It has resulted in people making better health conscious choices and better fitness conscious decisions.

For some, depending on the day or how the day is going, a simple sight of the Gym at MACtown makes us all ask – Have we exercised today? What did we eat today? What can we add or eliminate from our diet.? Both clients and staff have come to learn that a diet also consists of making healthy choices, not just involving food alone but also the type of thoughts we entertain during positive and negative situations. It is up to us to exercise the mind and the body and the Gym has helped us all here at MACtown to become better people, better employees and better for those we are here to help, serve and protect. As the the Fitness Director at MACtown, it has been an incredible journey thus far, in being a part of bettering the lives of the people we serve and the staff at MACtown, Inc.

Click here to see MACTown’s community videos

Mid Florida Community Services

    Aimee C., Hernando County, came to Mid Florida Community Services, Inc. in August 2017. She was an unemployed, single parent with four children ages ranging from six to fourteen. After volunteering with her local Fire Department, she enrolled in Pasco Hernando State College Fire Academy.

Mid Florida Community Services assisted Aimee with tuition, uniforms and books, the application for the State Exam, and the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) through our Family Self-Sufficiency support services.

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Aimee successfully completed the Fire Fighting program and graduated in December 2017. She met all the requirements of the laws and rules for Emergency Medical Technician of the State of Florida, as required by the Bureau of Fire Standards and Training, as well as, the requirements of Florida Statutes and rules and regulations of the Division of State Fire Marshal.

She is now employed as an Emergency Medical Technician.

Starting Point

 

FINDING FREEDOM FROM A LIFETIME OF SUBSTANCE ABUSE

Becky was on opiates for six years with a history of drug use from the age of 15; including marijuana, acid, coke, crack, heroin and pills. She moved to Florida at age 25 and was clean from hard drugs for about a year, but continued to drink and smoke pot. Eventually, Becky relapsed and started taking pills again. She became pregnant and tried to quit but couldn’t. She was 37 years-old and at this point, and her life and the life of her unborn child were at serious risk. Her doctor called Starting Point Behavioral Healthcare and made an appointment for her.

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Becky did one-on-one therapy at Starting Point for a while and was able to get clean by the time she had her child. After childbirth, however, the doctor wrote a prescription for Percocet when she left the hospital. This led to Becky abusing pills again, even though she was breast feeding and knew she needed to quit. Pills became harder to find, so she started shooting up heroin when her son was just one-year-old. She got married and didn’t want to take her husband on her downward spiral, so she desperately called Starting Point for help again. When she went into Starting Point a few days later, she was very sick from withdrawals. Her therapist never gave up on her and helped her through this difficult time. Her therapist knew Becky had been through detox four times and relapsed with her longest stretch of sobriety being 9 months; but her therapist refused to give up on her and helped Becky believe that she could succeed.

In addition to therapy, Becky started attending groups. She went to AA and NA and found a sponsor. She was placed in the Medication Assisted Treatment program at Starting Point and began taking Suboxone. She decided she was going to do everything everyone told her to do and trust that God was putting her in front of these particular people for a reason. Becky tried not to miss appointments and took extra classes. She has now been clean since January 20, 2015. She also brings her son into Starting Point for ADHD treatment.

Becky is now 41 years old. She has continued all of her twelve-step work but nearly relapsed in May 2018. Her guilt over that near-miss caused a downward spiral, but she remained sober. Becky then lost her mother in June 2018, and she feels like it is a miracle that she didn’t relapse. To this day, she remains clean and sober even though people around her are smoking marijuana. The positive difference in her life and the life of her family is remarkable. Without treatment, Becky is aware that she could have lost her life. She now participates in Starting Point events and shares her story with others hoping it will inspire them on their road to recovery.

Adoption2Action

    Adoption2Action, Inc. (A2A) was founded by two adoptive mothers who saw a gap in services for families who had adopted from Florida’s Foster Care System. They both adopted special needs children, and although they both had extensive social service backgrounds, they found it challenging to navigate the many channels to help their children get the services they so desperately needed. They then realized that they were not alone, and that many adoptive parents struggle to get services and help for their children.

Quite often these families suffer because they are not aware of the resources available to them, or where to turn for help. A2A’s mission is to provide a trauma centered approach to post adoptive services.

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We do this by providing intensive case management, therapy, crisis intervention, inter-agency resource and referral, trainings for parents and social service agencies, service coordination and navigation, and educational support for all members of the family. The above all mission for A2A is to advocate on behalf of these families and make sure that they feel supported no matter how long ago their adoption was finalized. Our team has an extensive social service background, and is committed to ensuring “Forever Families Stay Forever”.

Centre for Women

Nonprofit Offers Just the Right Business Prescription for Caring Pharmacist

    After earning her Doctor of Pharmacy Degree at Florida A&M College of Pharmacy, Vondalyn Crawford dreamt of opening her own independent pharmacy in the east Tampa neighborhood where she grew up. She spent two decades working in corporate pharmacies, but really wanted a more
personal approach.

Like many small business owners, Dr. Crawford set out to solve a problem. “I saw a real need for a pharmacy in the underserved East Tampa neighborhood,” said Crawford.

Then in 2016, drawing on her inner entrepreneurial spirit, Crawford decided it was time to launch her independent pharmacy and began making plans. In early 2018 she opened Health Matters Pharmacy at 1702 N 50th St, Tampa, FL. The modest storefront, which is small and welcoming, is the only pharmacy within a four-mile radius.

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Vondalyn is one of hundreds of female entrepreneurs who are clients of the nonprofit Tampa Bay Women’s Business Centre, a program of The Helen Gordon Davis Centre for Women, whose mission it is to help women succeed both professionally and personally.

She admits that her pharmaceutical education didn’t give her the business skill set she now needs to run a growing business. “I needed a better understanding of finance, marketing and employee development, among other areas,” she said.

Vondalyn is working with the business counselors and mentors at the Women’s Business Centre to help fill in her knowledge gaps. “I wish I had discovered the Women’s Business Centre before even launching Health Matters,” she said. “With their help I could have avoided some pitfalls. The Centre’s team of business experts are helping me set the stage for future growth.”

“Our Women’s Business Centre offers the essential resources women entrepreneurs need for setting up and growing a new business – contacts, knowledge, research, collaboration…the full toolkit,” said Ann W. Madsen, Founder of the WBC and Executive Director of the Centre for Women. “We connect women entrepreneurs with a trusted network of business specialists. Through networking events, seminars and one-on-one mentoring, the Women’s Business Centre offers a wealth of advice, training, contacts and opportunities to help women succeed both professionally and personally.”

“For many small businesses, the word ‘local’ is thrown around as a way of garnering business, but for Health Matters Pharmacy it’s a core value. I’m here to serve the community,” Vondalyn said.

Her Health Matters Pharmacy offers multiple services including one-on-one patient care, delivery, over-the-counter medications, and transferring services to process prescriptions to other pharmacies, if needed.

As an experienced pharmacist, Dr. Crawford has the perfect temperament to run a small business. She brings confidence and positive energy to the pharmacy, which enables her to make a personal connection with her customers.

“As an independent pharmacy, you know the patients by name and can develop personal relationships.People come in for consultations and they trust that you will give them the information they need about their medications. Earning my patients trust is central to every service we offer,” she said.

Dr. Crawford takes that personal touch to an unprecedented level. Committed to truly meeting the needs of her neighbors, Crawford spends time visiting with the area’s homeless to discuss their prescription needs and assisting them in getting their prescriptions filled. She also spends time at local senior centers. “Many seniors take a variety of medications and are confused by the multiple instruction,” she said. Crawford also mentors two pharmacy interns per semester from Florida A&M.

Most of her customers come through word-of-mouth now. “I grew up with many of my current customers,” she said, but word of Crawford’s pharmacy, caring attitude, knowledgeable advice and excellent customer service is spreading quickly. She is adding more than 50 new customers per month. A true entrepreneur who sees the big picture, Vondalyn knows the sky’s the limit. To help ensure future growth and to help the medically underserved in similar communities, she has created a business model that is tailor-made for franchising.

Home Safe

    Sandra, a 34-year-old Hispanic mother, is one of many domestic violence victims who have experienced the miracle of hope and healing over the past year through HomeSafe’s SafetyNet domestic violence prevention and intervention program. SafetyNet is the only family violence prevention program in Palm Beach County with comprehensive and continuous year-round therapeutic interventions for child and adult victims, serving approximately 120 families each year.

When Sandra and her now 12-year-old daughter, Emily, immigrated to the United States from Colombia in 2015, she hoped to escape an abusive relationship. She wanted to build a better life for herself and her daughter. Sadly, she discovered that starting over in a new country did not make her any less vulnerable to abuse. She was referred to SafetyNet earlier this year from the YWCA’s Harmony House, a shelter where she sought refuge after being physically assaulted by her husband. They had initially enjoyed a long “honeymoon” period where she felt he was a “good husband and dad to my daughter.” Their relationship deteriorated, however, subjecting Sandra to verbal, emotional, and eventually severe physical abuse.

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Sandra has a college degree from La Universidad de la Salle and was a social worker in Colombia, where she worked with children with mental health issues. She left due to an abusive relationship with her ex, a police officer. She felt there were “more opportunities” and a better career path in the United States. She believed she could use her skills and Spanish language to reach out to families in need. What she did not expect was to be re-victimized in yet another abusive relationship.

Sandra was able to move from Harmony House to her own place with relocation fund assistance from the Office of the Attorney General. Since moving, she has been working tirelessly as a housecleaner to make ends meet – a considerable sacrifice, given her educational and professional background. She consistently attended the weekly SafetyNet Program support groups, processing her traumatic history and learning coping skills to enhance her resilient nature. Emily, although young and naïve, was been able to process her feelings of fear, trauma and family discord as she participated actively in the teen support group. She evolved into a positive peer leader to her group peers. She wants to be an artist and had even shown the group some of her highly personal and imaginative artwork.

After participating actively in the program for 10 months, Sandra and her daughter successfully “graduated” the program. She has decided that she would like to remain in touch with the program and to attend her support group on occasion to “tell her story” to the other victims. She would like to empower other victims with further strength to remain resilient, and violence-free in their own lives. Furthermore, she wants to become a professional social worker to use her personal experience to advocate on behalf of other victims in our community. Sandra’s story is one of strength, perseverance, hope and healing.