HOLIDAY MIRACLE CONTEST
Good Wheels is a 501 ( c ) 3 non-profit which provides transportation to the disadvantaged, both physically and economically, in a four-county area in southwest Florida. Most of our clients are transported to vital dialysis and chemo treatments. Not only are these clients taken to medical facilities in Lee, Collier, Hendry, and Glades counties, at times, based on doctors’ orders, they are transported to Tampa, West Palm Beach, or Miami.
While these are our normal services to the community, during Hurricane Irma, Good Wheels took on additional responsibilities.
Before, during, and for two weeks after the hurricane, Good Wheels provided 24/7 transportation for 300 out of state utility workers brought into our community by a LCEC, a utility company. Each of our three drivers stayed at each of three hotels with the workers to always be available to transport them to their vehicle staging area or other facilities as needed.
In addition, our paratransit drivers provided service for the Emergency Operation Center in Hendry County transporting special needs people to emergency shelters.
As the storm passed, good Wheels was in contact with dialysis centers to determine which ones had power and usable water and transported critical clients to these facilities.
Good Wheels is now working with the Hendry and Lee County Emergency Operation Centers, FEMA, and LCEC to prepare for future hurricane/emergency events.
Sunrise Community, Inc.
It is the mission of Sunrise Community, Inc. of Hillsborough to provide people with disabilities the assistance and support necessary to enable them to live valued lives in the community.
We serve 94 adults with developmental disabilities in our 14 group homes and approximately 250 adults with developmental disabilities in our two Adult Day Training programs. In August we accepted an autistic individual from Gainesville.
Prior to coming to Sunrise Community, Inc. of Hillsborough he had lived in two group homes that both discharged him after just a few days in their care and a four or five-month stay in the hospital.
His parents, who love him dearly and are actively involved in his life, were unable to care for him anymore because it was putting a strain on their health. By the time we were contacted to consider admitting him, 13 other group homes had said they would not accept him due to the severity of his behaviors. He is a big guy who has a history of being very aggressive – hitting people, putting holes in the wall, head banging, and screaming all night. People were scared of him.
After meeting him and his family, we decided we could support him and help him live a valued life in the community, despite the oversight agency in our area expressing concern. Four months later he has made remarkable progress – his parents have even expressed surprise at how much progress he has made! Our staff is able to assist him with his self-care needs – he looks better because we have been able to assist him with keeping up with grooming. He exhibits very few of the behaviors that were so scary to others – hitting people, putting holes in the wall, head banging, and screaming all night.
He has been able to take walks in his neighborhood and go on van rides without putting himself or others in harm’s way. And, most important, he’s happy! At a recent meeting, his Dad said that when he visited the group home recently he anticipated his son would try to follow him out the door wanting to go home with him – and he didn’t! He waved good-bye and gave his Dad the sign he was feeling happy. His Mom reported that he looks better than she’s seen him look in a long time and is the happiest she has ever seen him. She said that, although she wishes he lived closer to them in Gainesville, she’d drive anywhere in the state to see him as long as he is that happy.
All of this is due to the dedication of a small group of staff who are trained to support people with developmental disabilities who have behavior challenges. Their care and concern for him helped them to get to know him and earn his trust. And, because of them, he will continue to gain more skills that will enable him to have a better quality of life!
In 2010 Another Way, Inc. Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Center started receiving calls from a 51 year old woman who had been married for 35 years. She told us the story of how her husband had a severe drinking problem and that when he began to drink the mental and physical abuse became worse for her. She was not working because even at the age of 51 he had never allowed her to work because he needed to know where she was at all times.
She was given the approval to come to shelter; however, she did not show up that evening.
Instead over the flux of five years, we continued to receive calls from her. Each time the violence got worse and more physical. On one occasion her husband picked her up by the throat and dropped her to the ground. She explained that he stood over her and continued kicking her and stomped on her ankle breaking it in several places. We again approved her for shelter and after many calls and times counseling with her on our helpline, she decided to come into the shelter.
Once she arrived at the shelter we worked on her self-esteem and overcoming the abuse she had been enduring for years. She struggled with not going back because she feared not being able to survive without him. We worked very closely with her in regard to looking for jobs and discovering that she can go back to work and it is okay. The Shelter Advocates encouraged her and cheered her on during her journey of finding a job. They assisted her with creating a resume and applying for several jobs. Eventually, she was able to find the perfect job for herself and found that she was able to work without being in fear.
After months of working and saving her money, she applied to go into Another Way’s transitional housing program. Once she got into transitional housing she joined our outreach program. She was able to get counseling, attend support groups and still receive the same support she had received in shelter except in an office setting. She continued to excel in the program and even expressed to our Advocates that for the first time in many years she was happy and felt safe every day. She felt that when she went to bed at night she would not wake up to a drunken rage and felt that she was able to support herself without having to be told what she could and could not buy. The survivor eventually moved out of our transitional housing and into her own home.
She has continued to do well for herself and maintains a happy healthy life free from abuse. She even came to a fundraiser our organization held where she shared her story with the community and told them everything she learned, gained, and experienced with Another Way. She still to this day calls and checks in with our staff members through our helpline and outreach program. She has one particular Shelter Advocate she calls her Angel because she feels the Advocate spent a lot of time on the phone with her and was the one who gave her the courage to leave the situation and find out how truly amazing she is.
The Centre For Girls
There is a girl with plump cheeks and hazel eyes who comes bouncing through the front door every afternoon beaming like the morning sun. She greets me with her melodic voice, always calling me Ms. Sartura and asks me about my day. This girl is a light at the Centre for Girls, one of many, but one that is unquestionably unique. At only ten years old she could capture the hearts of everyone she came in contact with, taking them in without hesitation or skepticism, making even the most stern of us smile and laugh along with her.
And now at twelve years old, she is blossoming into a young woman, exploring literature and music and art, coming into her own with a grace I feel honored to have been able to be a part of. All of our girls here are beacons of light in a world that often seems quite dark but this girl, in particular, this girl with plump cheeks and hazel eyes, did not always feel so bright.
You see, this girl– let’s call her Hazel– came from circumstances that most people cannot even fathom. She thought that she had a loving and caring family, three siblings and a mother who would kiss her in the morning before school. Things were not as they seemed, however, and one day when little Hazel got off the bus she found that her mother and her siblings had packed up their things and left– abandoning her and leaving her to fend for herself.
Young Hazel, who was only nine years old at the time, felt her chest tighten with panic, rushing to the neighbor’s house to see where her family had gone. The neighbors were just as mortified as young Hazel was, unbelieving that a mother could leave her child behind without a word, but that is what happened. Hazel plead with her neighbors to find her mother but her mother was gone, and so were her siblings, and the neighbor had no one else to call but Hazel’s father who was oblivious to what had happened because he was living in another state with his wife and new family.
Fast-forward a few months and Hazel’s father along with her step-mother and step-siblings move from the North East to Florida so that Hazel could return to her original school– not wanting to disrupt Hazel’s life any more than it had been. That school just so happened to be a school in the Centre for Girl’s zoning district and she found herself here.
When Hazel walked through the door she was not smiling, her hazel eyes were not alight, her steps were small and unsure– her shoulders slouched. She came in with fear, fear of attaching to those who would abandon her as her mother had. She came in with anger, anger that her life had changed so abruptly and so unfairly. She came in with the propensity to lash out and act out and disrupt class. All of those things, however, we worked with her on. She spoke to our onsite counselors, she painted in art class, and she sang and participated in group activities. When she was upset we sat her down and had her verbalize what it was she was feeling. We were there for her, as were the other girls, and after some time Hazel began to come out of her shell. For the first time we saw her personality, as bright and beautiful as it was, and Hazel came into her own.
Recently at the Centre for Girls we did an activity with our middle school aged girls and asked them to write down an obstacle that they have overcome while attending our after school program. Hazel told us that she understood and accepted that her mother would not be a part of her life but that it was easier to accept that because of the love and the support she received on a daily basis here– and on a daily basis from her father and step-mother.
Only a few days later her step-mother called me directly – terrified that they would be moving to a new home in a new area-which she thought would force Hazel out of our zoning district and force her to stop attending the Centre for Girls. I assured her that wasn’t the case, and that we would be seeing Hazel for a long time to come and what her step-mother said to me was a testament to how beneficial and impactful our program is. Her step-mother breathed a sigh of relief and said:
“Hazel attending the Centre for Girls is far more important than us moving. The best thing we can do for Hazel is to keep her in this program. I don’t know where we would be without it.”
All of our girls here are lights, shining in their own unique way. Some of them come in with light, some of them come in with wide eyes and beaming smiles; but some of them come in with their light diminished and we here at the Centre for Girls do everything we can to help them find it again. Don’t believe me? Just ask Hazel.
United Community Options
Approximately two years ago we welcomed a family into our program that relocated from a Northern state. The parents informed us that they heard about our program and were told that we could assist their child. After the assessment, it was discovered that the child required Occupational and Physical Therapy.
The parents were in need of various equipment due to the child’s immobility.
The child’s needs were great and she required assistance in every area as the parents had not previously taken steps to address her challenges in her home state.
Once enrolled, we immediately contacted the administrators to connect with the ESE Specialist to review her case and what could be done to assist the family. United Community Options is structured to address and meet the needs families that live with varying degrees of intellectual and physical challenges. After ensuring the services that the school would be able to meet, we approached our Advocacy Department and connected the parents with an advocate to help her navigate the system to ensure services. The assigned advocate connected her to our Respite Department, which assigned the parents a Respite sitter.
Within nine months, the child began receiving therapy during school, she was provided with a wheelchair to address her physical condition; her parents were referred to an employment agency that accommodated their child’s school schedule, aftercare, and Respite schedule.
Due to all of this assistance, the parents were able to work to improve their situation and afford a vehicle that would carry the wheelchair. The parents were living on the fifth floor and had to carry the child because she cried when placed in a stroller. However, once they purchased the van, they could take the wheelchair and take her upstairs in comfort. To date, the child is still receiving therapy. She is demonstrating fine and gross motor manipulation, she is able to eat independently and is starting to hold her head up.
Peace River Center
Sylvia came to our services almost three years ago. She had experienced multiple admissions to the Crisis Stabilization Unit over several months. She had experienced a break up with her significant other after a three-year relationship. Her young adult children were not equipped to have her live in their homes.
Her symptoms of paranoia, suspiciousness, and depression began years before. She had at one time been a Reservist with the military as well as a manager in a few fast food restaurants.
When she was discharged from the crisis unit, she moved into one of the group homes. She did very well in all services while living in the group home. She participated in Psych Rehabgroups, Club SUCCESS and followed her medication management. Her mental health symptoms would come and go, requiring frequent medication changes. She decided to move out on her own despite staffs concern it was not time. She soon had to be hospitalized due to decompensation but was able to return to the group home and resume services.Again, after only a few months, she moved into one of PRC’s HUD apartments, though the treatment team did not feel she was equipped to do so. She decompensated quickly and had to be Baker Act again.
On discharge, she went to reside with her son in Highlands County. She reached out again to return to the group home. It was explained we would accept her but only if she followed the treatment team’s recommendations on when she was ready for discharge. After several months of waiting, a bed became available and she returned.
The third time has been the charm!! She has resided in the group home for almost a year. Her symptoms again were fragile until her provider started her on a new antipsychotic medication that has given her wonderful relief from her symptoms. She is again an active member of Club SUCCESS, serves on its Advisory Board, works part-time at The Ledger, and has purchased a car. She feels wonderful about herself as well as being very pleased that she is psychiatrically stable.
She recently applied and was accepted to Central Florida Behavioral Health Network to receive a scholarship to attend a week-long training in Tampa to become a Certified Peer Specialist. Her boss agreed to give her the week off. She will attend this training in November. This will allow her to apply for a position with Peace River Center as a Peer Specialist. As a Peer Specialist, she can now help improve the lives of the people we serve by her own experiences and her own recovery story.
HomeSafe provides the miracle of hope and healing to South Florida’s most vulnerable residents – victims of child abuse and domestic violence. Our programs transform the lives of children and adults who are severely traumatized by abuse. They learn that what happened in the past need not define them in the present and future, and they are empowered to write new chapters in their life stories that focus on safety, security, and the success of achieving their personal goals.
Among our many clients who have found hope and healing over the past year is “Mona.”
As a result of that incident, the Department of Children and Families referred Mona and her children to HomeSafe’s SafetyNet domestic violence prevention and intervention program. SafetyNet provides individual and group therapy to domestic violence victims and their children to help them take control of their lives and understand how they can break the cycle of abuse for future generations.
Mona obtained a protective order against her ex, and as she and her family attended weekly therapeutic support groups, they were able to begin putting their lives back together and start the healing process. Mona came to understand how living under the constant threat of violence hurt both her and the children. In particular, her oldest child, 18-year-old “Kayla,” found herself thrust into the role as the caregiver to her younger siblings – 16-year-old “Roberto,” 10-year-old “Chano,” and 7-year-old “Leticia” — to try to bring a sense of normalcy to an environment that was anything but normal. In doing so, Kayla risked jeopardizing her own future because she could not focus on getting the education she needed to succeed as an adult.
As Mona regained parental responsibility, Kayla was freed of the parenting burden she had assumed and could concentrate on furthering her education. She was able to enroll in Florida Atlantic University this fall semester after winning scholarships from the Domestic Violence Council of Palm Beach County and the “Leaders for Life Fellowship,” which awarded her four years of tuition. Roberto also flourished, becoming an officer in his high school’s ROTC and overcoming his own learning challenges to excel in school. In therapy, all of the children were able to successfully process their feelings of having been traumatized by the previous violence in their home.
The family successfully “graduated” the program in 2017 and can now look forward to a brighter future free of violence at home. They are one of the more than 16,000 infants, children and families served by HomeSafe each year who receive the gift of safer, more productive lives.
Miami Cerebral Palsy Services
Miami Cerebral Palsy Residential Services Inc. is an Intermediate Care Facility (ICF) that supports 96 people with incredible specialties. The company comprises four facilities. One of the locations is the Sunset facility, which is where Kim lives.
Kim, a 53 year old woman residing at Sunset since June of 1987, was initially admitted at the young age of 23 with her father’s support. Kim’s father was always very involved in her life. Unfortunately, this past September he passed away.
As healthcare providers, we are trained in a variety of topics to support the life of the people we serve. However, it is difficult to tell a person that a family member or guardian has passed away.
Thus the challenge: “How can we support Kim through the grieving process?” First, we comforted Kim by hosting a memorial for her father. But we all felt there was more to do in order to continue sustaining her through this difficult time. Kim kept a few pictures of her father. Looking at these pictures we realized that we had found the answer to help Kim throughout this difficult time.
At Miami Cerebral Palsy we called on the talents found within our own art studio. Kim’s teacher and fellow art class students got together and came out with an idea to replicate two previously separate pictures and create one combined picture of Kim and her father together. This art piece and gift was made to help Kim through her grieving process. The class created a drawing so similar to the picture Kim had that, once Kim saw the art piece, she immediately recognized it as a portrait of her father and herself.
This experience of re-directing grief through the medium of art was therapeutic having a direct, beneficial impact on Kim and the class as a whole.
Kim was overjoyed at the kind gesture her teacher and fellow artist/classmates had created for her. The picture has helped Kim deal with her grief by forever having the endearing drawing of her angel beside her.
“She immediately recognized it was a portrait of her and her father”
LifeStream Behavioral Center
LifeStream Behavioral Center, in partnership with Lake Community Foundation and other local community agencies, established The Open Door, a homeless drop-in center for the nearly 3,500 Lake County residents who are without homes.
In May 2016 a homeless veteran visited The Open Door for a shower, laundry, and to get a mailing address.
He did not want to go to the VA because he said he “was broken and didn’t want to be fixed.” He was able to find some work and stayed on a friend’s porch from September 2016 to May 2017. Unfortunately, the job fell through and he became homeless again.
The Open Door arranged for an appointment at the VA and found that he qualified for a VASH voucher. The Open Door staff worked with the VA and local veteran’s services, Public Housing, other social service agencies and a local landlord. In October 2017, the veteran became housed. Since becoming housed, the veteran found out he has become eligible for and will be receiving several years of previous veteran’s benefits pay as well as SSI.
This income has enabled him to be a stable, self-sufficient contributing member of society and more importantly, it restored his faith that the community recognizes and appreciates his many years of service to our country. He had been homeless for five years. Upon becoming housed, the veteran offered his campsite to another client of The Open Door. He stayed for two weeks, working with staff on searching for a job and receiving SNAP and medical services.
He found a job with the railroad and has now left the area. The campsite as now become home to a 26 year old man. This man is working with Vocational Rehabilitation to either get work, disability benefits and/or a rehabilitation center. All three clients have helped with mopping floors and cleaning The Open Door every day.
Ann Storck Center’s
Ann Storck Center is dedicated to enriching the lives of children and adults with developmental disabilities. For more than 66 years, we have provided loving, compassionate, quality care to tens of thousands of individuals. Currently, we serve more than 300 individuals daily. Aisha is a shining example of Ann Storck Center’s commitment to providing quality, compassionate care. For more than 65 years, we have been helping make life-changing miracles happen.
This is the story of Aisha.
Click here to see Aisha’s Photos
Aisha is 5 years old and has attended Ann Storck Center since she was 3 months old. Two weeks after she was born, geneticists told Aisha’s parents that she was born with Alfi’s syndrome, an extremely rare condition that is caused by a missing portion of her 9th chromosome. Rather than focusing on her disability, her parents decided that Aisha herself would set her own limits.
They say kids don’t come with an instruction manual, but there really is no guidance for this situation. Being an extremely rare condition, there was no easily accessible information, support, or options. During this time, her parents slowly started to lose hope in their daughter’s future. At the same time, Aisha wasn’t doing well at home; she would barely drink even an ounce of milk and couldn’t keep anything down. By Aisha’s one month birthday, she was back in the hospital getting a feeding tube. She had extreme acid reflux and was losing weight rapidly.
Broward County has a resource book that lists everyday care and child care provider in the area. Aisha’s mom called each and every one and no one would take a 3-month-old with a feeding tube. Finally, she found Ann Storck Center. A pioneer in providing these types of services, Ann Storck Center deals with the most complex, rarest diagnosis’ and never turns a child away for being too medically fragile. The staff and teachers were welcoming and reassured the family that Aisha was in good hands.In addition, Aisha received all of her therapy at the Center. At 3 months, she was getting multiple hours a week of speech, physical and occupational therapy; approximately 15 hours a week. At first, Aisha could not even lift her head from the floor during tummy time, and had such extreme oral aversion that she would not take anything in her mouth.
Her therapists and teachers were persistent. Aisha screamed through physical therapy, but the therapists never gave up, continued to push her to reach her goals. During speech therapy, they worked on feeding Aisha until it was possible to get a spoon on her tongue. The nurse found medication to control the reflux so that she could use the feeding tube intermittently. At 5 months old, Aisha had an additional surgery, which resulted in a setback. The bones in her skull were prematurely fusing. The surgery opened up the fusions to allow her brain to grow. She spent a week in the hospital, and when she went home, it was back to square one with feeding. Aisha now wore a helmet, which impacted her progress in physical therapy. Despite that, her parents and therapists kept working with her and never gave up.
She has always been the most sociable kid, smiling and laughing. She learned to drink from a straw and feed herself pureed food. Aisha’s never crawled, but instead, bunny hopped and learned to walk at 3 years old.
Now, at 5 years old Aisha knows her ABCs, can count to 10, walks, runs, jumps and loves to sing. She is a regular kid. She eats regular food and has been off her feeding tube for nearly 5 months now. She is in kindergarten in a special needs class and still attends aftercare at Ann Storck Center, where she gets all of her therapies and is now learning to swim.
Seeing Aisha walk down the aisle and recite the pledge of allegiance at her preschool graduation this past summer was a tear-inducing, proud moment. Not only for her family but her team of teachers, nurses, therapists, staff and more. Things that were originally deemed impossible, were now actually happening.
Ann Storck Center changes the lives of every individual that comes through its doors. We do whatever it takes to enrich their lives. As the only program in Broward County providing these services to children under the age of 3 years old, we are reliant on the generosity of others to be able to continue providing the high quality, loving, and compassionate care that is our legacy.
Linda Tuininga turned her trauma into a light for others on the road to recovery
Before Linda Tuininga found New Horizons of the Treasure Coast, the 60-year-old former human resources executive was sleeping in her car with a gun under the seat. She had no money, no home, and no family.
On a February morning in 2014, Linda decided this was the day she would end her life. Instead, she met a church pastor who drove Linda to New Horizons, a mental health and substance abuse agency in Fort Pierce.
“New Horizons saved my life,” says Linda, a survivor of chronic sexual abuse. “I came into recovery here. I had people around me who cared, my meds started working and I began to feel better.”
Linda spent 6 months living on an inpatient residential unit at New Horizons, where she attended therapy, developed relationships and gained self-esteem.
In the three years since, Linda has completed the Florida Recovery Peer Specialist Certification, which required 500 hours of volunteer work, secured employment at New Horizons helping others, and just last month published her memoir.
“Every Fourth Girl,” is the nonfiction account of the sexual abuse Linda suffered by her father that began when she was only 10-months-old and ended at age 38.
“I had no recollection of any sexual abuse my whole life until the age of 43,” says Linda. “I disassociated — blacked out. I know I had to go to the doctors a lot of shots of penicillin. I was always getting sick, apparently with STDs. I had a lot of difficulties: anxiety, depression… I attempted suicide, but I didn’t know why. I had no memory of the events with my father.”
When she was 43, at the height of her professional career, Linda went into a grocery store after work to grab a few items. Suddenly, the memories caved in on her… like an avalanche of misery.
“It was like a Kodak carousel slide projector flashing before my eyes — all the images of abuse from childhood to adulthood flooded over me as I held on to the grocery cart for dear life,” she says. “My body was re-traumatized all over again.”
What followed was Linda’s mental and emotional breakdown from the realization of all that her father had done. “My father was a sadistic, sociopathic pedophile,” she says.
Her memoir, a page turner from start to finish that is imbued with unimaginable tenderness, mercy, and humanity, sets the record straight about what life was really like in the upper-middle class Scottsdale, Arizona house where Linda grew up.
United Community Options
Debbie Bradford – Three years ago, Debbie came to United Community Options of Miami formerly known as United Cerebral Palsy Association of Miami (UCO). She was living at home with her father who was suffering from dementia, her mom had stage 4 cancer and her sister who worked full time and had a sixteen year old daughter.They were a close family and at a loss as to what to do.
Debbie had suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury as a child setting a new course her family never planned. As she grew older, Debbie became more and more aggressive and her family, as hard as they tried, didn’t have the tools or knowledge to help her.
In her first days at UCO, Debbie was very aggressive turning over furniture and knocking pictures off of the wall. She was very physical with staff and even tried physically harming herself. The family couldn’t take her into the public at one point due to the aggressive behaviors she displayed towards them, herself and to others.
Three years later, Debbie has changed dramatically. She is very social, loves to interact with other people and, most of all, people in her community. She loves to go to the grocery store where she can communicate and socialize with the staff and the customers that are shopping. Through behavior management, behavior therapy with a behavior analyst, attending support groups and stress reduction meetings, Debbie is managing to react in a more positive and acceptable way.
She has shown remarkable progress with rare occasions of outbursts. The rare times it does happen, she has learned to self-soothe with minimal redirection from her direct support staff.
Debbie lost her mother and father while at UCO. She was informed each time by her direct support staff and each time she accepted the news without breaking down. She didn’t become depressed and never had an outburst. Even her sister has recognized a difference in Debbie and a tremendous change for the better.
Perhaps UCO has made a difference in the life of Debbie and her family through consistent behavior therapy and through using behavior management but, more importantly, Debbie has also impacted the community she lives in. She comforts others who exhibit the same aggressive behavior. She tries to placate her peers when they are having a bad moment or day. She is also very excited to volunteer at another non-profit organization where she is scheduled to feed the homeless.
By helping one individual, UCO has impacted her family who loves and cares for her, and Debbie is now impacting the community by not only helping her peers but by volunteering to feed and help members of the community where she lives.