To whom it may concern:
We want to say thank you for this opportunity, and also ask that you indulge us as we introduce ourselves. We hope to give you a brief snapshot of our mission and passion for this project.
Colette and I had met in 2011. At the time our boys were in the same school and she invited us to join her in participating in a sports team (Tomahawks) for children with special needs. You can imagine our excitement as we had long ago marked off the list the hopes of becoming “baseball moms” to our non verbal, autistic boys. We excitedly participated and, much to our surprise, our boys LOVED baseball and flag football. That step forward got our minds churning, and over the next few years we casually talked now, and again, of our hopes of one day opening a school. In 2014 we both were in crisis mode. At this time our boys had attended over 7 public, private or charter schools for children with special needs. We had witnessed neglect, abuse, and a lack of vision for the future for our young boys. In February, as we sat at a lunch table at Busch Gardens with our children, we laughed and cried as we reminisced of all the milestones, heartaches, and disappointments we had experienced in their short lives. Those tears soon turned to talks of grandiose ideas of a school where we could give our kiddos the opportunities which they deserved. Less than a month later we were standing in a building that appeared to be an overwhelming project. We were faced with so many issues, (lack of air conditioning, rodent infestation, electrical malfunctions), and very little money for supplies and equipment. What seemed impossible quickly fell into place with a lot of hard work and community effort. Today we have over 80 students at this location with over 50 employees. Three years ago we opened our second location in South Tampa.
We established a mission of a three phase project: Phase I – a special needs school; Phase II – a vocational training center; Phase III – a residential living facility. We opened fall of 2014 with 35 moderate to severely autistic, downs syndrome, cerebral palsy, and other special needs children, ages 5-22. As we started this project, we were shocked as the calls started coming in. Parents were desperate! Their 8, 9 and 10 year old children were being suspended and released from other local private, public and charter schools, as it seems tolerance for special needs is at an all time low. Some were being told that at the ripe age of 13 “your child has aged out of their program.” Other were told “since your child is nonverbal we can’t support him anymore.” We quickly grew to over 80 children at our Seffner location. Three years ago we opened our second location in South Tampa. We are so proud to offer hope to so many families.
Colette and I knew from the beginning we would never be satisfied with just a school. Our dreams were much larger than that. We just didn’t realize how urgent the situation was for so many families. Our dreams of providing a transitional/vocational facility and residential living for this community intensified. Our passion always driven by our own two precious boys, Hayden and Julian.
During the past years we have held various fundraisers, and we have practiced due diligence in exploring the following burning question. What is missing for this group of individuals? As we started touring other “special needs” residential communities, once again our hearts and jaws dropped. We soon realized that even these facilities only wanted to cater to “higher functioning special needs individuals.” Colette and I shed tears of sadness as we heard over and over “your son would not be a fit for our facility as he is non verbal.” “He can’t button his own shirt!” He can’t, he won’t, and he shouldn’t. This was reminiscent of all of the negativity we had heard since the day our children were diagnosed. We are now even more determined to provide these families with a safe haven for their children. The parents of “our community” are devastated, weary, and downright discouraged. We travel many miles, some of us even to other countries, looking for answers. We spend countless hours in therapy sessions. We want to provide these families with hope, security, and peace of mind.
There is a growing need for help for special needs individuals. New research shows that 1 in 35 infants/toddlers are being diagnosed with autism. These staggering numbers tell us that this is becoming an epidemic rather than merely a medical/mental disability. It behooves us to find solutions for the future. Each of us has our own “calling,” or perhaps cross to bear. Ours is to provide a dignified life style for those individuals that due to no fault of their own, cannot live independently.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
4518 S. Manhattan Ave. Tampa, FL 33511 – 1301 S. Parsons Ave. Seffner, FL 33584 813-693-5101