Project EnhanceAbilities was birthed in December 1996 in Lee County, Florida. Prior to its inception, there were few community-based activities designed to provide recreation and social interaction for teens and young adults with moderate to severe disabilities. A series of Day Camps during Christmas break, Spring Break and in the summer, Saturday programs and Sunshine Days – recreation programs on teacher duty days during the school year – welcome families and the participants.
Before the program was started, the only option for most children and young adults with moderate and sever disabilities when school was closed was spending time at home with family members or paid caregivers. Few community activities had been designed to accommodate persons with special needs. Since the program began, it has organized social and recreation programs for 37 children and young adults ages 7 to 22 that have moderate to severe disabilities.
The program’s first partner was Gulf Coast Center. The center is a residential facility for more than 300 adults with developmental disabilities that is operated by the Florida Department of Children and Family Services. They provide EnhanceAbilities with a house as a base of operations and access to all facilities free of charge. By 1997, Lee County Parks and Recreation Services joined the partnership as primary sponsor of Day Camps and Sunshine Days by providing funds for program activities and salaries for the key staff.
EnhanceAbilities is an innovation. The organizers saw a need and created a new set of programs to fulfill that need. Two mothers and a caregiver of children with severe disabilities, Marci Greene, Barbara Wood and Carol Brotherton, wanted more for their own children and others with similar needs. They were the founders and advocates of the program, and they paved the way in accomplishing something that no one in the community had done before or even considered possible. The demand for providing for a child with severe disabilities takes a huge toll on a family. EnhanceAbilities’ programs provide support, space, and hope for the future that did not exist before.
To date, volunteers between the ages of 12 and 84 have given over 2,000 hours of service. As the organization grows and new activities are added, more volunteer opportunities are created. Volunteers are a vital part of the Day Camps and Sunshine Days, especially the young volunteers who serve as buddies to each of the campers.
A winner of the 1998 JC Penney Golden Rule Award of Southwest Florida, EnhanceAbilities gained the support of many other individuals and organizations. Since it was founded in 1996, the program has grown consistently each year. The vision for the future includes building a facility on the Gulf Coast Center campus to serve as a home to the day program serving 25 people.