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Center for Disabilities celebrates 70 years of impact

Mark Parker



Michelle Detweiler, president and CEO of the Parc Center for Disabilities, speaks at the organization's 70th Anniversary celebration at the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art. Photos provided.

Much has changed since the Parc Center for Disabilities welcomed its first 10 kids in 1953; however, two things have remained constant – the need for its services and the community’s support.

Mayor Ken Welch, St. Petersburg City Council members and local business leaders joined Parc’s leadership and some of the families it serves to celebrate the organization’s 70th anniversary Feb. 2 at the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art. Michelle Detweiler, president and CEO of Parc, called the event “amazing” and said she was proud to announce the Center is “in a very good position” despite a $5 million annual funding gap.

In a social media post following the event, Welch congratulated the organization for “decades of making a difference and shining a light on capabilities in the City of St. Petersburg.”

“We are so thankful for the comprehensive services and support it provides to hundreds of children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Welch. “Inclusive progress and #WeAreStPete means every adult and child will be valued and every voice will be heard.”

Mayor Ken Welch addresses attendees at the James Museum.

Center and city officials have enjoyed a strong partnership since the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration. According to its website, Edyth Ibold placed a small notice in The Evening Independent inviting parents of children with developmental disabilities to a meeting at City Hall in 1952.

The Pinellas Association for Retarded Children (as it was originally known) received its corporate charter in 1953, and the first group of parents that formed PARC opened The Peter Pan School later that year.

In 1966, the city council donated six acres of sparsely populated land near Tyrone Boulevard, which became the organization’s main campus. “They could not envision anything ever being in the Tyrone area,” said Detweiler, whose sister has lived at the Center for over 40 years.

“But we are full to the brim on that property.”

The Center has grown alongside St. Petersburg, and its expansive campus now encompasses 10 acres. Parc serves 539 children and adults daily, employs over 320 people and its 43 vehicles traverse more than 170,000 miles annually to support clients.

Detweiler noted the organization adopted a new moniker to reflect cultural changes and explained that Parc “is just a name” rather than an acronym. A donor’s generosity has helped recent rebranding efforts throughout the Center, and she said its leadership is now elevating its community services.

“Many people do not see this population,” Detweiler said. “And we’re trying to make – and we have made – them a lot more visible in our community, and really our state. We’re super proud of what we’ve done.”

Parc’s Inspired Choir, part of its Inspired Artist Studios, also performed at the event.

She relayed that people often fail to realize the organization’s local employment impact. In addition to its hundreds of staff members, it provides hundreds more to area businesses through Parc’s Supported Employment Program.

In July 2022, the organization received $1.5 million in state funding for much-needed renovations to its 33-year-old, 19,000-square-foot Adult Community Life Skills Inclusion Center for Employment Training. Detweiler said a roof replacement was a critical priority, and that is underway.

She is now working with local architectural firm Harvard Jolly on the interior work and said Parc officials would ask legislators to support renovating their Children Services Building this year. In addition, Dutweiler announced that the organization plans to build a new facility for its preschool and pre-kindergarten programs, which will accommodate 120 kids.

She said city officials “respond very favorably” to annual community block grant requests. Detweiler added that they and their Pinellas County counterparts are helping fund a $2 million bathroom renovation project in the organization’s 48-bed housing facility.

“We haven’t been able to renovate that building in 43 years,” she added. “They came to the table and were like, ‘we want to help,’ and they’ve been super gracious and really easy to work with.”

Parc recently received national recognition for its Caregiver Relief Program, where the organization sends staff into homes to assist families taking care of children with disabilities. Detweiler said Parc provides the only respite program in the state, and she looks forward to expanding its scope in the coming year.

Thanks to a recent partnership with the St. Petersburg Pickleball Association, Parc is now participating in “America’s fastest-growing sport.” The association asked if the organization would like to participate in weekly lessons and games and provided them with coaches, equipment and T-shirts.

“It really adds to our programming, as you can imagine,” Detweiler said. “We are such a comprehensive organization. Because of our history and legacy – especially in this area – we’re the leaders in services and programs for children and adults.”

Parc’s pickleball teams with members of the St. Petersburg Pickleball Association at Walter Fuller Park.

For more information on the Parc Center for Disabilities, visit the website here.




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