These life coaches help adults with intellectual disabilities achieve independence

Magnify of Central Florida provides life skills to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities

For adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, finding employment, independence and purpose can be difficult.

In this week’s Getting Results Award segment, News 6 anchor Matt Austin shows us how one nonprofit is breaking those boundaries and magnifying abilities.

Magnify of Central Florida provides residential, employment, youth transition, life skills development, and advocacy services to individuals, 18, and up, with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Magnify of Central Florida executive director, Kevin Johnson, gives a tour of the 11-acre property. (WKMG-TV)

“We’re on 11 acres and we have room for a phase two where we can almost double our capacity,” Magnify executive director Kevin Johnson said as he stood in front of Dorsey Hall, the centerpiece of the property. “We have a wait list of more than 150 people so there’s definitely a need here.”

The need, Johnson said, is partly because there are few opportunities once these young adults age out of high school programs.

“They’re graduating to the couch,” Johnson said. “The people we serve are underestimated. They all have amazing talents and it’s spending time to really acknowledge and understand who they are and provide an environment where we can appreciate who they are.”

Johnson has helped expand the programs at the former Bishop Grady Villas to include school-based programs and camps to help more people find employment and transition to independent living.

Project Search is a one-year employment preparation program for 18-21-year-olds that is getting results. The program collaborates with local businesses to provide internships while students are supported by Magnify staff. Johnson said it has achieved a 100% placement rate.

Desiree Robles, director of employment and life skills, says staff at Magnify focus on finding the right fit for the participants.

“Our intention is to get to know them, to see where their strengths are, and identify some potential barriers so that we can provide solutions,” Robles said. “Individual talent means that that person has a certain gift. So it can be a gift to be able to provide wonderful customer service, it can be a technical gift, it could be someone that has the ability to show up consistently, it is all individualized just like all of us.

The Bishop Grady Villas house 48 people and Magnify of Central Florida supports another 500 people through its other programs and camps.

Magnify of Central Florida resident, Carolina Cardona, welcomes a visitor to her home. (WKMG-TV)

Carolina Cardona is a 10-year resident at Bishop Grady Villas. She’s held several jobs at nearby fast-food restaurants.

“This is my home,” Cardona said as she showed off her dorm-style room. She keeps it tidy. Her high school diploma and photos of family hang on the walls. A row of DVD movies fill the shelf above her desk. “I like my TV and I like it here,” she said with confidence.

“We believe all people have God-given gifts and our job is to give those individuals with disabilities the opportunity to share those gifts with their communities,” Johnson said.

To do that, life coaches like Evelyn Jaime and Pam Pollock work on basic living skills. The morning of our visit, nearly two dozen people were part of a class on money management.

“Everyone should have $30 written down,” Pollock told the class. “That’s your opening balance, $30.”

“We’re going to set up a little bank area,” Jaime added. “We’re going to learn how to withdraw money but first we need to know how much money we need.”

One of the students plays the role of bank teller, handing out realistic-looking play money from a cash drawer.

For many in the room this is a refresher. They walk to nearby stores and shop by themselves or with companions.

“Their capability is amazing,” Jaime said. “They’re like a sponge. All they need is patience, time and love.”

Johnson and Magnify of Central Florida were nominated for the News 6 Getting Results Award by viewer Lynn Rooks.

“Kevin is a unique person because he has dedicated his entire career to improving the lives of individuals with disabilities,” Rooks wrote in her nomination.

“I think something that is often discounted is that these individuals with disabilities still mature and become adults and want things in life that everyone dreams of having. They want to live independently from their parents/caregivers, they want to have a job, they want to earn money, and they want to have friends. Magnify, under Kevin’s leadership, does just that - it creates ways to make this possible,” Rook wrote.

“Success for the people we support is helping them get closer to their goal. Whatever that is. A movement towards a higher independence,” Johnson said. “And for us, seeing the pride and the sense of accomplishment in those individuals. That’s what drives us.”

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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.