Winter Garden nonprofit helps graduates with disabilities prep for real world

Mother inspired by son with autism to start nonprofit

Patty Myers knows first-hand the realities a person with a developmental disability faces--her son has autism. 

"I want to build those bridges with relationships with people, communities, jobs ... through businesses," Myers, the author of Autism is A Blessing, said.

Her son, Charlie, inspired her to create Building Pathways, a nonprofit organization in Winter Garden. 

"They want to have a friend. Like, my son still does not have a friend. He hasn't had a friend and he's 17," she said when talking about the social struggles her teenage son faces. 

As a behavioral analyst, she is aware of the tough road that awaits her son, and she wants to make sure that he and others with autism, down syndrome or another developmental disability, are prepared for the real world. 

"I just want to be a part of their life to show businesses, to show our community, they are valuable." Myers said. 

"Patty's really taught me to see the person first and the diagnosis second," Jennifer Pinckney, the assistant director of Building Pathways, said.

Myers and Pinckney launched the nonprofit organization in June to train them with life, social and job skills and prepare them to face the real world once they've graduated high school. 

Since their opening, they've been working with an average of six kids per week. Among their activities: going twice a week to the movies, daily trips to the park where they play tennis and basketball and enjoy the swing set and slide. They also take them grocery shopping and teach them how to cook.

"We don't sit there and just watch movies all day. We really teach even when we're swimming, we're doing social skills," Myers said.

To learn more about the day and summer programs, visit the Building Pathways website. Anyone interested can also contribute to the organization with a donation.