The basketball session ended when someone suggested a few rounds of Just Dance. Before long, the attendees were twirling along to “Let It Go,” and even the most timid attendees were dancing.
Six local residents participated for the first time in Club Elevate, a day program started by Jim Hukill, Executive Director of the Lift Disability Network. There are 6 spaces left.
The club is for adults with developmental disabilities and has been Hukill’s dream for 25 years. He said he is excited to see the community reaction to the Lift Disability Network’s new initiative.
“We are very excited about the future of this new venture,” said Hukill. “I believe it embodies the vision and ethos of what we do. Lift is built on several key values. One of those core values is Relationships are about relationships, and Club Elevate aims to provide an environment that nurtures relationships, giving individuals the opportunity to connect with others and build lifelong friendships.”
Members spend the day together building relationships, social and life skills, and community connections.
Stacie Rouse was hired by Lift to build the program prior to its January 9th launch. She had previous experience with her day program and was enthusiastic about working with The Lift and Club Her Elevate.
Rouse has an assistant, Andrew Vacca, and several daily volunteers who help keep the program running smoothly each day and help with field activities, excursions, and meals. More volunteers are needed for daily activities, especially community outings, Rouse said.
Six families who have already joined the club are thrilled with the program.
“They have been so encouraging and so grateful,” Rouse said. “Several[parents]have told me, ‘I’m so happy to finally find the right place for my child.’ Club members love it. Alex said, ‘You guys.’ I love being with you,’ he said.”
Club Elevate has been a blessing for 21-year-old Ben’s mom, Jennifer Goble. He likes music and dancing, but when participants start playing basketball, which he doesn’t care about, he chooses between playing with others or sitting alone.
“It broadens his horizons,” said Goble.
The program is designed to provide new potential interests and allow participants to develop skills for a more independent life. Club members work on a social skills plan each semester, he said. This may include how you speak and behave in public.
These skills are worked on as a group and individually. Each member’s plan can be adjusted throughout the semester based on individual progress and input from staff and parents.
Monthly field trips in the community allow them to put into practice the skills they have learned.
“They talked about horses, what they had to do to become police horses, what kind of calls they would get. Or we would go to the park and have a picnic,” Rouse said.
Upcoming excursions include bowling, watching movies, and visiting the zoo.
Tuition is $75 per day and includes rental of all equipment, activities, staff and space. Excursions are an extra charge. The only requirement is that club participants must be able to feed themselves and use the restrooms on their own.
Goble says his son Ben is having a great time.
“He’s incredibly outgoing, incredibly outgoing…and he always wants to go on adventures, so I always have to come up with ideas,” said Goble. “He can get the social behavior he needs, which gives me a chance to breathe and relax and I can take care of myself for a few hours.
“Then the days I have him, I have more energy to entertain him and I’m not as tired,” she said. ’ is saying.”
She said she was grateful that Ben was somewhere safe and happy.
Rouse says this is just the first of several stages for Club Elevate. The first is a club-like atmosphere with an emphasis on socializing, but next year we plan to launch a training program that will provide work skills and independent living skills.
“It’s the closest place to the hallway of the building,” she said. “Another day program in West Orange County for life skills and vocational training. You have to find the right fit.”
Once Phase 2 is ready, Club Elevate will enlist community partners for onsite training.
expression of the heart
“For over 25 years, we have been working towards this moment,” said Hukill. “Our work at Lift suggested we build an organization in West Orange County that would give citizens the opportunity to receive services they could access rather than across town. We have had many events, projects and outreach, but this is the first program that builds on our daily efforts to serve our community.”
Hukill understands the need for accessible services and opportunities for success. He was born with a neuromuscular disorder and has used a wheelchair for his mobility since he was six years old.
“As Winter Garden and the surrounding area expand, we will be able to provide care to local families living with disabilities,” he said. “This is very important to me and to the team at Lift.”
Hukill and his wife, Rhonette, started the Lift Disability Network in 2006 with a vision of creating successful families where one member has a disability.
“Club Elevate is also an expression of Lift’s heart in that it cares about families who face disability issues every day,” said Hukill. “Through this warm and caring environment, we have the opportunity to touch family life every day.
“God has given us hearts to serve those who are overseen and often denied the opportunity. This is personal to us, that’s who we are, and today we celebrate another way to “improve the lives of families with disabilities.”