Summary of February, 4 Workshop on Developmental Disabilities at Virginia Key

  On Saturday February 4, 2012 Nature Links for Life Long Learning held a workshop in the offices of The Historic Virginia Key Beach Trust. It was an exciting event at which attendees saw the new facilities to be used by our forthcoming programs, including the food concession building (to also be a classroom) as well as places for habitat restoration and organic gardens.



Gregory Bush, Executive Director gave a power point presentation describing the growing partnerships involved, as well as the cultural relevance and overall value for young adults with disabilities of an organization such as Nature Links that will operate within the Miami area. Next, Gary Milano of D.E.R.M gave a brief overview of Virginia Key, the island where Nature Links will begin it’s programming. Gary will include Nature Links participants in his future plans to restore the native habitat on the island.


Following this we heard from the attendee’s of the workshop which, in part, included: Sarah Cole from HistoryMiami, Gisel Prado of Miami Dade Parks and Recreation Disability Services, Karlissa Callwood from the Miami Science Museum, Denise Prehay, Wanda Castro-Jackson from ArtsAbilities and the UM Mailman Center, Laura Calzolari of UM, Michael Cardello of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, Guy Forchion, Executive Director of the Virginia Key Park Trust, Jenna Balfe, Assistant Director for Nature Links for Life Long Learning, Ken Marquard of Miami Dade College’s MEED program, Michael Powe of the UM Office of Civic and Community Engagement, Carlos Viera of MDCPS, Lixon Nelson a Nature Links board member and CEO of IMUNEEK, Diane Adreon of the UM CARD Center, Mari Chael a Nature Links board member and architect, and Elaine Turner a parent.



The group expressed not only enthusiasm, but offered their expertise to help get Nature Links running within the next several months. At present we anticipate having (1) weekday programs (2) Saturday sessions and (3) monthly community dinners. Following the morning session and lunch (which included a train ride around the property and a quick look at the working Carousel), Carlos Viera from MDCPS ran an interactive presentation inviting the input of all to create a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). Participants stressed the importance of forming alliances with organizations and companies within the community who will hire our participants upon completion of the program, offered suggestions regarding protocols for teachers, students and participants, and discussed the economic sustainability of Nature Links beyond reliance on grants and government funding.


Since our general visioning meeting on September 20th, we have made great progress, and expanded our Board of Directors to include Jill Brookner of the MDCPS and Lixon Nelson of IMUNEEK. We are also building our advisory board, which will include a wide variety of representatives. We have begun grant application processes and are well under way in developing both Culinary as well as Parks and Recreation Vocational tracks as well as a more broadly conceived continuing educational program (including elements focusing on weather and sealife, animals, culture and geography, life and employment skills.)


Nature Links intends to initiate programs by March. We have been heartened by the positive response from city officials, from non-profit partners, professionals in the field and parents and potential participants. The excitement about what we are up to is clear to those who hear about our vision and programs to come.

We thank all our supporters for your continued range of ideas and overall encouragement. We will be serving the community of persons with disabilities by filling the gap in services between adolescence and adulthood with imaginative and fulfilling programs aimed at employment and fostering richer social lives.

Our website now has a button for those who want to join our membership. Please feel free to contribute what you can to our operation and tell others about what we are up to. 

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