Meet March’s CityMaker, Mickie Brown.

By Adrianna Cole

All of our CityMakers are driven individuals who never, never give up, but our March CityMaker made that her organizations slogan. 

Mickie Bower Brown is proud to say shes called Lakeland home for a quarter of a century. She fell in love with the uniqueness, shops, and restaurants downtown. Her husband, Gary, retired last August after 38 years as an CRNA (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist) but still fills in from time to time when needed.

Mickie is one of the founders of Noahs Ark, an organization here in Lakeland committed to empowering individuals with developmental disabilities by providing or facilitating employment and social opportunities, as well as affordable housing. With Gary by her side, theyve done everything together, from volunteering with the Lakeland Police Department, to creating keepsake DVDs for the actors in Lakeland Community Theatres Out of the Box, a troupe with unique abilities, and to making Noahs Ark the organization it is today.

The inspiration for Mickies involvement in Lakelands special needs community and her discovery of her purposeis Mickies 34-year-old daughter, Brittany, who has developmental and intellectual disabilities.  When Brittany was almost two, Mickie was told by specialists that her daughter would never walk or talk. Mickie refused to accept that, and from then on, shes worked hard to make sure Brittany had the tutors, occupational, and physical therapists she needed to live the fullest life she could.

A Call to Adopt

Mickie is proud to say that adoption is important to her family. Since witnessing her brother and sister-in-law adopt a daughter when Mickie was 12 years-old, she knew she was going to adopt when she was older. 

Her biological daughter, Paula, was 11 when Mickie and her then-husband decided it was time to adopt. Initially, they wanted to adopt an older child, closer to Paulas age, but the agency only showed children with special needs. At the time, they did not think they would know how to parent a child with special needs. 

A year and a half later, they connected with an organization outside of Lubbock, Texas that helped unwed mothers. Three months later, they met Brittany, a 13-day-old baby girl with olive skin and brown eyes, and decided she was the perfect addition to their family. 

Mickie and her family learned later that Brittany had intellectual and developmental disabilities, and from there, Mickies purpose in life was set.

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 purposein life all while changing the lives of people with disabilities along the way.

Creating Change

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, Noahs 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 didnt have friends and was not included with typicalpeers 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 dont!” 

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 Noahs 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 worldwith 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 Noahs Arks 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.