For nearly 70 years, the Parc Center has supported children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, yet the funding needed to provide its many services has proven elusive.
A local representative recently hand-delivered the nonprofit a check for $1.5 million in state funding for much-needed renovations. However, Michelle Detweiler, president and CEO of Parc Center for Disabilities, said the organization must raise $5 million annually to cover operating expenses.
Since 1953, St. Petersburg-based Parc has provided resources and programming to Pinellas County residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities, “from two months to 80 years old.” Detweiler said the recent appropriation would go towards renovations for a building built in 1970 that houses workforce development and several other services.
“And we have not had any renovations since then (1970),” said Detweiler. “So, in a general sense, it helps us provide a quality, improved environment for the individuals we serve in that program.”
The funding, presented on July 20, stems from a state appropriation meant to improve workforce inclusivity and remove barriers to job opportunities as many employers face a shortage of workers. At 32 years old, Detweiler said Parc’s 19,000-square-foot Adult Community Life Skills Inclusion Center for Employment Training desperately needs renovations.
Detweiler explained that Parc applied for a similar $1 million appropriation for the facility in 2020 and received $600,000. While the nonprofit’s leaders were happy to take what the state gave, she said a new roof for the building was $200,000, and the pandemic was causing construction costs to soar.
So, the organization’s leadership asked lawmakers for the $1.5 million, and to Detweiler’s delight, Parc received the full amount this year. She said receiving the appropriation was due to asking again when the state was focusing on workforce initiatives.
“Up until this year, we were considered serving like this invisible population,” said Detweiler. “The state has been very, very slow in responding to all types of funding for individuals with developmental disabilities. This was the first year that we really received a response – on several different levels.
“And this was one big level that directly impacted us.”
Detweiler said the topic of intellectual and developmental disabilities makes many people uncomfortable. She added that unless they are directly impacted by it – via a family member, for example – most people choose to ignore the subject and those it affects.
Using a trip to a restaurant as an example, Detweiler said it is human nature to look away or ignore people with those disabilities. That response, she said, has a ripple effect on funding opportunities. “Unless we’re there fighting our cause and knocking on doors, it’s not heard, and it’s not looked at,” she said.
Detweiler is uniquely passionate about Parc’s mission, as her sister, Leslie, has lived at the center for 40 years.
According to its website, Parc serves over 615 children and adults daily. The organization employs more than 320 people, and 43 vehicles travel in excess of 170,000 miles annually to support its clients.
Parc’s expansive campus, which spans 10 acres off Tyrone Boulevard in St. Petersburg, features eight buildings – including residential homes, classrooms, art studios and offices. The organization also provides two off-campus residential homes and operates several programs within local schools and businesses.
“We have been making a difference for 70 years,” said Detweiler. “We are the most comprehensive organization that serves children and adults with developmental disabilities.
“Without the services that we have, the individuals would not have that quality of life and would not be able to reach their maximum potential.”
The appropriation money is going toward a facility that Detweiler said helps prepare Parc’s residents for community employment. A crucial aspect, she added, when many area employers are facing a staffing crisis.
The center provides training and dedicated staff members who work closely with local businesses that provide employment opportunities. Job coaches ensure the success of those hired in traditional employment settings.
Parc’s website lists 27 participating employers in the area, including USF Aramark, Publix, Pinellas County Schools, John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and Eastbay Animal Hospital.
“That’s a huge component of what we do,” said Detweiler. “And it’s very important for our community.”
For people with disabilities, Detweiler said the program gives them a sense of purpose and accomplishment. They also earn a paycheck and learn financial responsibility.
She said the program averages about 75 participants and “gives them goals to keep going.”
“You should see payday,” added Detweiler. “Because it’s so exciting.”
The funding, said Detweiler, will cover renovations for about 5,000 square feet of the 19,000 square-foot building. She said Parc needs another $2 million to complete the necessary upgrades, according to local architectural firm Harvard Jolly, which conducted the cost analysis.
Due to funding issues, Detweiler said Parc must complete the renovations in phases.
In addition to the employment services, the nonprofit also provides daily living skills, recreational activities and an extensive art program in the outdated building. Detweiler said it also houses a quiet area where adults and children with sensory issues can receive personal attention.
For more information on the Parc Center for Disabilities, visit the website here.