Mother's efforts to help people with special needs impacting community

Mother's efforts to help people with special needs impacting community

Thousands of people with disabilities are on a waiting list for services in Florida. One mother who'd waited long enough decided to make something happen.

Robin Jones' sons, 27-year-old Jeffrey and 20-year-old Holland, have autism. They had aged out of the school district programs and had nowhere to spend their days, except languishing at home.

It's estimated that more than 150 families in South Santa Rosa County are in the same shoes as Robin and her husband. She began a journey that was about more than her sons.

"It's not just about their needs, it's not just about me figuring out what I can do just for them because this is my family," Robin said. "Everyone here that I've met in this community has the same needs that my boys have."

It was a long, hard road, but a determined working mother rallied a few other parents and set out to make something happen.

They would need committed volunteers and a place.

The Community Life United Methodist Church opened their doors to the group one day a week and the Thursday Respite Program began more than a year ago.

"We have arts and crafts activities," Robin explained. "We have dance and movement. We just finished having a chair yoga session. Try to find their gifts and their talent, and what we do is we try to help enhance those."

There are cooking classes for some, music lessons for others. They tap into every potential and interest. It's been a rewarding run so far, but Robin sees the need for so much more.

She got Missy Rogers, the CEO of The Arc Gateway in Pensacola, to come for a Thursday visit.

"I was just blown away," Missy said. "Not only at the activities and at the people that were being served, but the people that were here volunteering their time once a week. They have a one-to-one ratio of their volunteers to their consumers. That's unheard of."

The Arc Gateway has a long history of providing services for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities and they agreed to join Robin's team. They've gotten support from the county commission and now the agency is looking for a building and will locate a center in South Santa Rosa.

"This program will be Monday through Friday, roughly six to seven hours per day," Missy said. "So they will have a day program, a meaningful day program to come to on a regular basis."

They'll have to continuously raise funds to keep the program going, but Robin is in it for the long haul.

"There are so many families that have young kids right now who are going to get to a point where their kids age out and they're going to go, 'OK, where do I go?' Well, now they're not going to have to ask that questions," Robins said.

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