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PARC Fosters Independence and Confidence in Children and Adults

By S. Mathur

PARC was founded in 1953, when Edythe Ibold discovered the lack of any educational and learning opportunities for her daughter and other children with developmental disabilities. Determined to fill the gap, she sought and found community support from the people of St. Petersburg, FL.

Since that time, PARC has grown into an organization with a national reputation, offering more than 40 programs to over 800 children and adults, with the enthusiastic help and support of volunteers. But its goals remain unchanged, offering children and adults a chance to develop their skills and abilities and to have fun while doing so. PARC helps children and adults focus on what they can do, rather than what they can't do.

A picture of WellCare employees who assembled and delivered 16 bicycles, 11 strider bikes, and 22 wheelchairs to PARC clients.

Jackie Dryden, Chief Advancement Officer, explains: "PARC provides children and adults with developmental disabilities to exercise their independence by working with them one-on-one to identify their particular interests and leverage them to their full potential. Just like you and me, PARC clients may show an inclination for the arts, computers, physical activity, enterprise, or anything else for that matter. Working with staff, volunteers, and outside resources, PARC endeavors to create programs tailored to those interests so that our client can experience his or her life to the fullest."

PARC programs offer opportunities for children and adults to gain independence, self-confidence, and a chance to truly become part of the community. For children, there is a preschool learning center, a technology center and multisensory room, and a Rainforest Therapy Center. Respite care for families and at home therapy services recognize the importance of supporting families and caregivers as well as the children. Activities and training for adults include creative crafts, jewelry making, horticulture, technology, and employment services that prepare them for employment in the community.

Creative programs like the Culinary Arts Teaching Kitchen and the Inspired Artist Studios @ PARC also help to prepare clients to connect to the local community, by working in the area's growing hospitality industry, and producing artworks for sale. Both programs help to unlock the client's earning potential as well, fostering their independence and self-confidence.

Volunteering with PARC enriches the lives of clients as well as the volunteers themselves. Dryden describes the range of options open to volunteers: "A volunteer can be hands-on with our clients (children and adults) in a myriad of on-site programs, including children's preschool, adult day training, art studios, behavioral center, sports activities, horticulture, culinary arts, and computer lab, to name a few. Volunteers gain a great deal from their experience including making new friends and gaining professional skills. More importantly, however, volunteers know, at the end of the day, that they have made a positive difference in a person's life."

Volunteers can also serve as ambassadors at large in the community, spreading the word about PARC's activities and programs and building support. Over the years, PARC's activities have given substance to the motto: turning disabilities into capabilities.

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