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For special needs students, post-graduation help.

All over the nation, young adults with developmental disabilities are graduating high school. For many of them, and their families, this is an incredible achievement marked by excitement and celebration. It is especially important to acknowledge the dozens of adults with developmental disabilities who recently graduated from our own Sarasota County schools, including those at Oak Park, as referenced in the June 5 article “The biggest day of Sammy’s life.”

For many of these individuals, it is true that the excitement is short lived. They are graduating from the one place where they’ve had a support system that has helped them learn, grow and maximize their individual abilities. Many of these individuals don’t have the opportunity to move on to that next milestone — college.

Most mainstream colleges aren’t equipped with the ideal classroom environment for adults with developmental disabilities. So where is their “Oak Park U?” Thankfully, continuing education opportunities do exist in Sarasota County.

In Venice, that educational opportunity is available at the Loveland Center. For over 50 years, the Loveland Center has provided adults with developmental disabilities the ability to have a college-type experience as they work to achieve individual life goals. Additionally, Loveland Center offers support employment and volunteering, recreational activities, and even affordable housing.

Our adult-day training program is offered from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. five days a week and provides a supportive classroom environment where students work toward achieving individual goals of their own choosing. The Community Opportunities program assists students in acquiring and keeping paid employment and volunteer positions in the community.

Many individuals work at businesses from Siesta Key to North Port, where the students are dedicated employees. Our job coaches provide help with identifying job opportunities, completing applications, and training for success in their positions.

Our mission is to help adults with developmental disabilities live their lives to the fullest, and we do that by providing countless opportunities for adults with various levels of skills and abilities. Additionally, Sarasota County residents are fortunate to have multiple programs available from organizations such as Easter Seals of Southwest Florida, Community Haven, and Suncoast Technical College.

At Loveland Center, we strive to achieve our mission by adapting our programs to meet the needs of current and incoming students, with the feedback of the students and their families. And we look to our consumers to recognize where there are gaps in service and ways we can improve and grow. Over the decades, we have tried to adapt to meet changing needs for students. One example is our Phase 2 program, which now includes a multi-sensory environment, and serves individuals with a higher level of need with day-to-day living tasks. We recognize the high demand for this service, but it’s an area that cannot grow without advocacy and support.

I encourage the graduating young adults and their families to continue to advocate for the best support systems possible, and if something is not currently available in our community, please let us know. We can all work together to ensure that local programs grow to meet the needs of current and future students.
So, to this year’s special needs graduates, I want to congratulate you on your tremendous accomplishment. While graduating high school is one of the biggest highlights of your life, it does not have to be the only highlight you should experience. So I ask you, what will you do to make your community a better place for yourself? And how can we help?

-Daniela Koci, President/CEO, Loveland Center, Inc.