A support professional sits with three participants in sensory and cognitive activities at Pine Castle. l Aaron Mervin, Pine CastleA support professional sits with three participants in sensory and cognitive activities at Pine Castle. l Aaron Mervin, Pine Castle
A support professional sits with three participants in sensory and cognitive activities at Pine Castle. l Aaron Mervin, Pine Castle

Options expand for people with intellectual differences

Published on May 15, 2024 at 1:19 pm

Adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities now have more opportunities to learn life skills in Northeast Florida.

Pine Castle — an organization in Jacksonville that helps adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities like autism, cerebral palsy and Down Syndrome — is now able to accept 200 new individuals for one of the two tracks in its pathways day programs. The two tracks are life enrichment or community employment.

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In the life enrichment track, adults learn life skills like health and wellness measures and money management, for example. The community employment track teaches culinary, maintenance and other trade skills.

Chip Hays participates in the employment path at Pine Castle. He said he has been there for 42 years and has learned how to operate a forklift, which he enjoys the most, and packaging and assembly skills. He said he likes the opportunity to help people every day.

“I like coming every day and just being here with my friends and the staff, and if they need help, I’ll come over and help them,” Hays said.

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Once an adult is enrolled, they will get customized curriculum, which includes a daily schedule, extracurricular activities like band or the Special Olympics, and options for mental health services. Adults in the employment track also receive working time to master their trade skills.

Typically the organization has a waiting list to get into the facility’s day programs.

Pine Castle CEO Lori Ann Whittington said having 200 slots open is “very rare” for her organization.

“With our capacity study, we can take more than we ever thought possible,” Whittington said.

Before the pandemic, she said, her organization offered up to 300 openings for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and they usually had a wait list. Her organization surveyed its facilities after the pandemic and worked through fire and educational regulations.

After the survey, the organization was able to find room to increase its enrollment cap to 429. Current enrollment stands at about 225 Whittington said.

Adults with an intellectual and developmental disability who are older than 22 are eligible to apply for the day programs.

Tuition varies between $900 and $3,000 a month depending on an individual’s needs. Families can arrange payment plans, Social Security disability income, funding from the state of Florida and opportunities for scholarships.

For more information on applying, go to Pinecastle.org/admissions.


author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 Steven Ponson has six years of experience covering news in Jacksonville and Northeast Florida. Prior to arriving on the First Coast, Steven also worked in radio in Orlando. He attended the University of Central Florida where he earned a degree in radio and television. Steven has been a reporter, producer, anchor and board operator. Outside of work, Steven loves to watch sports, cook delicious cajun food (as any good Louisiana native does) and spend time outdoors.
author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 Steven Ponson has six years of experience covering news in Jacksonville and Northeast Florida. Prior to arriving on the First Coast, Steven also worked in radio in Orlando. He attended the University of Central Florida where he earned a degree in radio and television. Steven has been a reporter, producer, anchor and board operator. Outside of work, Steven loves to watch sports, cook delicious cajun food (as any good Louisiana native does) and spend time outdoors.

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