‘It really is a rebirth:’ Daytona Beach center for visually impaired gets a 2nd chance

Ronee David fought to save Conklin Center in Daytona Beach, restoring services for people statewide

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.The Conklin Davis Center for the Visually impaired in Daytona Beach offers a one-of-a-kind vocational program.

The classes here are getting results and changing lives for people with multiple disabilities and the visually impaired.

But it was almost lost forever. In 2020 the former Conklin Center for the Visually Impaired lost its state license, but dedicated advocates nearby pushed to reopen the center and keep the programs funded.

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The Conklin Center was started in 1979 and offered a residential component — dorm rooms to teach independent living. The campus attracted students from across the state for more than 40 years.

Ronee David was director at the Center For the Visually Impaired, CVI, a separate nonprofit a block away.

“When I found out that they were going out of business I said ‘I can’t believe it. How can this happen to all those clients that are receiving services,’” David said. “So I contacted the Division of Blind Services and I kept telling them, ‘We can’t give up on these people.’”

[Insider Extra: See an extended interview with Ronee David]

David didn’t give up and, eventually, in July of 2021 the center was reopened when the former Conklin Center and CVI were merged.

David now serves as the CEO and President of the newly named Conklin Davis Center For The Visually Impaired.

“It really is a rebirth of the organization,” David said. “We have a lot of innovative ideas, a young staff and a lot of innovative thinkers.”

The center offers programs diverse as “Blind Babies” and “Senior Independent Living.” The Vocational Rehabilitation Program helps the visually impaired find and maintain employment.

“We had 80 or 90 people in the community that weren’t getting help,” David said. “They need ongoing assistance you just can’t abandon them.”

David said many of the clients get lifelong help to live independently.

“They’re living in apartments, they need help with social security reporting and many other things. If they didn’t have that help it would jeopardize their ability to stay in that apartment,” she said.

Kyle Dinglehoff went through the program and now works full-time at Caribbean Jacks Restaurant preparing silverware for lunch and dinner service. He earns enough to share an apartment and earns benefits as well.

Dingelhoff was diagnosed with Bardet-Biedl Syndrome. Blindness and learning disabilities are common symptoms.

Chris Rachid, General Manager of Caribbean Jacks said employing Dinglehoff goes beyond community service.

“He’s like a little brother,” Rachid said. “The staff loves him and he’s part of the family.”

It doesn’t hurt that Dingelhoff can roll up to 1000 place settings on a busy night during the season.

“Every restaurant in town would steal him if they could,” Rachid said with a laugh.

If those other restaurants are hiring, they don’t need to look any further than the Conklin Davis Center.

Mark Lawson is the Supported Employment Supervisor.

“We’re the only program that does this,” Lawson said. “We have students come from all over Florida to participate in this program. Their goal is to live on their own and we can help with making that dream come true.”

Students are encouraged to find work nearby so they can continue getting assistance.

Lawson said he’s happy to be back at the Conklin Davis Center helping the clients.

“The best part is seeing the students succeed and reach their goal. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing that happen,” he said

Lawson credits David for being persistent enough to make it happen.

“Ronee is amazing,” Lawson said. “She’s not only person-centered for the students but she’s also passionate about her staff.”

David was nominated for the news 6 Getting Results Award by Nancy Epps.

“Ronee is very special, she has a real heart for this place. She runs the center with skill and compassion for both her clients and the staff,” Epps wrote in the nomination form.

“I’m really excited,” David said as she filed paperwork for re-accreditation. “We made this happen and I’m excited about it. We have a great future ahead.”

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About the Author:

Paul is a Florida native who graduated from the University of Central Florida. As a multimedia journalist, Paul enjoys profiling the people and places that make Central Florida unique.