Meet March’s CityMaker, Mickie Brown.
“The lesson learned from this was that I was a special enough parent to raise and nurture a child with developmental disabilities and be a voice and advocate for all people with a disability,” she said. “Little did I know at that moment the impact Brittany would have on my life, giving me ‘my purpose’ in life all while changing the lives of people with disabilities along the way.”
Years later, while at a parent support group for families with loved ones with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Mickie remembers the moment that someone asked a question that spurred her to action.
“What will happen to our loved ones when we die?”
From that point on, the five families decided they would not stop until they had something for their loved ones so they could rest in peace. Thus, Noah’s Ark was born. A monthly activities program was established for its participants and a series of educational workshops for families began.
At home, Mickie witnessed first hand how Brittany didn’t have friends and was not included with “typical” peers when there were birthday parties or dances. She thought ahead to how her life would change as she grew older and how, despite her desire to, Brittany may never go to college like other children her age.
“Brittany asked if she could go to college,” Mickie said. “How do you tell your child they are not college material? You don’t!”
She knew it was time to make a change.
In the state of Florida, a person with a disability can stay in school until they are 22. That meant 8 years in high school. Mickie and a few other parents from Noah’s Ark families went to the Polk County School Board and the Dean at Florida Southern College and asked if they would consider an experimental transition program on their college campus. The program would help to prepare people with disabilities for the “real world” with skills they needed to succeed–like mastering public transportation, social security, food stamps, vocational rehab, and more. Students in the program were also provided with hands-on experience to not only elevate their job skills but actually help secure employment before exiting the program.
In 2000, the first trial year of the program was successfully run, and since then, the program has been cloned throughout the state. According to Noah’s Ark’s website, this public-private partnership has had up to a 90% success rate, as compared to only 7% from the traditional high school transition programs. The Transition Program was named the Best ESE Program in the State of Florida.