By YVETTE C. HAMMETT
An unobtrusive building on Hackney Drive in Riverview bustles every weekday with people socializing and learning how to navigate life more independently. They learn life skills and make lifelong friends.
Those who are seniors find respite from what might otherwise be a boring day planted in front of the television.
When developmentally disabled adults age out of public school at age 22, most have few options for continuing their education and social lives.
While their parents work, some end up on the couch — alone — with little social interaction.
The not-for-profit Sunrise Community Inc. day training camp in Riverview, serves as a home away from home for about 100 such folks, most of whom live in the area. The camp is a place where they can learn life and job skills.
Most of the funds for the center come from the State of Florida’s Home and Community-Based Services Waiver for adults with developmental disabilities. The wait to get those waivers is 20-years long, said Sunrise executive director Kim Wright. She and center director Ashley Crockett say the need already exists for more or larger facilities like Sunrise, and they hope to expand staff in the coming months to enable them to bring in new clients.
In addition to the state waivers, the center also accepts hourly payments, which range from about $4.89 to $15.76 per hour, depending on services needed.
The physical building at 10802 Hackney Drive has a long history serving since 1988 as a day training center for the developmentally disabled, Wright said. Her company took over the building in 2013, then renovated the entire facility last year.
“It’s a place where they can get meaningful daytime activity, which for various people means various things,” Wright said. Some individuals like the arts or sports, while others take classes learning how to cook in the kitchen or do laundry or change a bed. Others are learning work skills like emptying trash, cleaning bathrooms and mowing lawns.”
While these tasks might seem very basic to the general population, they can change the life of a developmentally disabled adult. “We are meeting these individuals where they are and developing their next level of skills,” Wright said.
Most of the clients come five days a week and most have been clients for years, Crockett said. “We have a variety of different areas we teach. We have the art room with a teacher that comes in twice a week and a current events area where they learn about what is going on in the world today. They learn how to fill out a job application and learn interview skills. We have a music room and a geriatric room for seniors and a life skills room with a kitchen where they learn how to cook, measure, make beds and set tables,” Crockett said. There is also a computer lab where clients learn how to set up e-mail and navigate the Internet.
“We also have a health and fitness class with exercising and healthy food decisions,” she said.
Outside, there are two greenhouses that recently were renovated, and clients are growing vegetables and flowers that they will eventually use in the kitchen.
Most of those who come to the center daily live in group homes. There is a pretty even mix of men and women, Wright said. Their disabilities range from autism to spina bifida and Prader-Willi syndrome, which causes people to eat endlessly without ever realizing they are full, she said.
“We try to create a home and work environment that as is close to a normal life as possible,” Wright said. “It gives them more access to the community and helps them integrate with the larger community.”
Not every group home or training center is created equal, said Marianne Cannizzaro, who has a 47-year-old autistic son who attends Sunrise. “I know the difference between good and bad. I could tell you stories that would set your hair on fire.”
What she and her son found at Sunrise, she said, is all good.
Brandon Biernacki lives at a group home on the Sunrise property and attends classes daily. Cannizzaro said both she and her son have been very pleased with the experience. “It’s a very pleasant place, and Ashley is like a breath of fresh air.”
Cannizzaro is president of the Sunrise Parents Group, which steps up to purchase extras, like new chairs and other supplies the center needs. She backs up what Wright said about working with clients where they are. “My son doesn’t speak. It’s geared toward everybody,” she said of the program.
“I feel like he is thriving at Sunrise, and he is loved there,” Cannizzaro said.
To learn more about Sunrise in Riverview, call Crockett at 813-671-2271.