The Brevard nonprofit training, employing workers with disabilities

Brevard Achievement Center helps adults find independence within workplace

ROCKLEDGE, Fla. – They have skills and they’re willing to work, but far too often people with disabilities are not given the chance.

This week’s Getting Results Award goes to one nonprofit that is changing that.

The Brevard Achievement Center is helping adults with disabilities find employment and independence, and for the nonprofit’s president and CEO Amar Patel, the mission is personal.

At the center, sunlight filters through the floor-to-ceiling windows in the brand new art studio. Inspirational posters hang on the walls and about a dozen participants stay focused on their work. Some knead clay, others build custom doormats with college sports team logos on them.

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But the largest group gets their cue from art instructor Heidi Popp.

Popp stands at the front of the class between two easels. The exercise that day was to create a work inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe.

BAC Art studio (WKMG-TV)

“We like to encourage all of our artists to shine in their own way,” Popp said. “Everybody has an interest and we like to inspire, grow and be challenged every day.

The studio is one way BAC helps bridge the gap between enrichment and employment.

“Our artists work in our studio. The artwork that’s behind me is for sale. When those pieces sell, the artist gets a commission,” said Keri Goff, the center’s director of communication.

The new studio is just one example of the growth the Brevard Achievement Center has seen under Patel.

The nonprofit moved into a new administrative building earlier this year, which includes the new studio located in front of the building right next to the lobby. Patel said the prominent location was by design.

“When we were designing this building, one of the important aspects was making sure it wasn’t just an administrative building. That we capture the mission. So our art studio is right on the corner,” Patel said. “The idea is that it’s a reminder to every employee as they come to work, this is what we do. This is our mission.”

That mission stretches back to the “retail lab” where participants learn the basics of working in a grocery store or clothing department.

“The point of this is so that we can do trainings in a comfortable and safe environment,” Goff said. “It becomes familiar so when somebody leaves and they do on the job training, they understand. They’ve seen these pieces before.”

Participants learn point of sale skills in the BAC retail lab. (WKMG-TV)

According to the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 20% of persons with disabilities were employed in 2022.

Patel said they’re an underutilized part of the potential workforce.

“I’ve never found a job that couldn’t be done by a person with a disability. There’s a misconception that a person with a disability is going to be more difficult in the work environment. The reality is, in our situation as an employer, is that our retention is a lot better than the average in those industries,” Patel said.

For Patel, the mission at BAC is personal.

“My mom has very significant disabilities,” said Patel, adding that his mother was diagnosed with scoliosis. “I grew up in a house where that limitation prevented her from being able to sustain a job. That certainly had an impact here.”

He said services for the disabled are getting better but there’s room for more progress.

“Our adult day training program here would have, at one time, been considered a day care or a safe place to be,” Patel said. “BAC is evolving that to meet the intentions of what families and individuals with disabilities want, which is moving toward as much independence as possible.”

BAC places about 300 people a year in jobs and services another 3,500 people.

The nonprofit has contracts with places as diverse as Patrick Space Force Base, Port Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center. Its clients perform custodial and food services, packing, circuit board assembly and sewing operations. The nonprofit just expanded with a call center for IT support services.

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Patel and the BAC were nominated for the News 6 Getting Results award by Jennifer Perini.

“Amar’s leadership is contagious, his passion is infectious and his purpose is beyond inspiring,” Perini wrote in her nomination. “He continually strives to bring about a better tomorrow where people with disabilities can find meaningful purpose and reach their highest potential.”

BAC Board Chairman Don Weiss agreed.

“The growth of the organization in terms of individuals served, contracts and revenue that the organization has brought in has significantly increased,” Weiss said. “Amar has brought structure and credibility to the organization.”

Patel said there’s room for more employment opportunities and put out a call to action for the Brevard County business community.

“If you are an employer, then consider hiring a person with disabilities and not think of that person as a concern in the workforce, but rather a diversification of your workforce that will likely enhance the culture of your organization,” Patel said.

Those interested in purchasing studio creations can do so weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the lobby of BAC’s Rockledge headquarters, as well as throughout the year at local art fairs.

In addition, Holmes Regional Gift Shop in Melbourne and Cocoa Beach Surf Company in Cocoa Beach carry BAC art program items. Proceeds from art sales go directly back to the studio.

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.