There’s a vision of a place in Tallahassee where kids and adults with disabilities can learn and work. Plans are underway to make Lifetown a reality, and two fundraisers this month will help.
At The Learning Center at Progressive Pediatric on Tallahassee’s Hermitage Boulevard, teacher Noah Christian is helping a small group of students learn how to fill out a job application. Most of them have never had a job. “If you’ve never had a job before, then we are going to put N/A in those boxes," he explains. The school was created to provide these kind of life skills to developmentally disabled young people.
These students are applying for jobs with the school's new coffee cart service. “School is pretty fun when you get to see your friends, but not when it comes to most of that math work,” says 11-year-old Seth Sneed as students laugh.
The school’s model focuses on what each child can accomplish, and there's plenty of repetition to help them excel. Soon, the school will have a new name to go along with a broader planned community known as Lifetown.
"We came up with this idea that Lifetown would be this place that would be open not only to our kids in our school but for the community," says Tammy McKenzie, founder of Progressive Pediatric Developmental Center. "We wanted to bring something to Tallahassee that would be able to support all these families that were searching for something to help their kids be independent and successful after they graduated from high school.”
McKenzie says the need is great, since many kids with special needs will outlive their parents.
“Parents want to make sure that their kids are being taken care of or can take care of themselves and have a job," McKenzie says. "So within our Lifetown program, it’s based on creating that independence, creating the successfulness, giving them those skills that let them go out and get a job and be independent.”
Many students attend the private school through McKay and Gardiner scholarships. Students receive one-on-one therapy based on their individual needs, and they work on a task-based program that quickly reveals their strengths and weaknesses. They also learn from field trips into the community. They sort food at Second Harvest of the Big Bend and work in the cafeteria and dining hall at Maclay School.
Progressive Pediatric Executive Director Beth Spear says they’re looking for more businesses willing to help students learn how to navigate daily life. “We need the community to get involved, businesses to be more open-minded to working with people with disabilities, open to being a place where we can help our students learn.”
Eventually, organizers envision a Lifetown Plaza, where the school will sit next to retail shops that employ adults with disabilities.
“Part of our development for these kids would be to take them from six weeks old, two years old, five years, ten years old, educate them and train them for these jobs," says Kevin Kolka, CEO and co-founder of Progressive Pediatric and Lifetown. “Then they could move to an independent living facility, and then they could take the bus to the different retail operations where they could become truly productive members of society. That’s our ultimate goal.”
The future of the Lifetown project hinges on funding. Progressive Pediatric is holding a benefit called Luau at the Lodge on October 12th at the Wakulla Springs Lodge.
Then, a concert to benefit Lifetown features The Producers at The Moon on October 24th. A silent auction before the concert will feature items donated by the community and some original works by students who may eventually benefit from the Lifetown project.