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Loveland students live life to the fullest

Venice Gondolier Sun - 8/19/2017

Since 1962, Loveland Center has grown to become Loveland Village, a place that helps those with intellectual and development disabilities to live their lives to the fullest.

Loveland has done it so well that its students are able to work in the community, sing and dance and act at Venice Theatre, compete in athletic competitions leading to and including Special Olympics and live in their own apartments on the campus at the corner of Havana Road and East Venice Avenue in Venice.

The state-of-the-art campus of today was not even a concept when a handful of parents met in a local church back in 1962. The initial concept was to assist young adults with developmental disabilities.

Until 1999, Sarasota County provided portable buildings for the staff. When the county needed the space back, Loveland supporters and the community started a fund drive to raise $2.1 million in a capital campaign for a new facility at 157 S. Havana Road.

The community rallied and the first building was erected — completely debt-free.

Until the past year, students lived at home with parents and attended weekday classes. Even today, that aspect of Loveland runs from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. weekdays, although the offerings have been greatly expanded as the number of clients and their needs has grown. There is a student-teacher ratio of 10 to 1.

Basic day-training classes include computer lab, practical academics, wellness, open learning center, health and safety and classes in life skills.

‘HeArts’ of gold

Creativity is fostered in the Creative HeArts Studio where students create mosaics and jewelry that are sold at community events. Loveland Jewelry sales are well-attended whenever and wherever they are held.

Another creative outlet is theater. That program began 22 years ago at the suggestion of Yvonne Pinkerton, who began Venice Theater’s education department. Participants meet at the theater twice weekly from October to June, learning life skills even as they prepare for an annual show, which is presented on the theater’s main stage each June.

Initially, the shows were rather simple variety shows with plenty of volunteers to back up the students in case they forgot a line or footwork for a dance number.

While there are still many volunteers, the students have thrived and the shows have gone from basic variety shows to productions with a theme. This year’s show featured a storyline about a serious topic.

Set in Las Vegas, “Las Vegas … Under the Neon Lights” went beyond the usual song and dance numbers to tell the story of the gigantic homeless population, which lives underground in the storm tunnels beneath the city.

Inspired by a book on the subject, director Becky Holahan and Loveland staff felt the students would be able to grasp the serious topic and they did. Not only did this year’s show have that serious theme, it also had a new act that demonstrated superior coordination.

A student learned to perform on the “silks,” a complicated aerial circus act regularly featured in Cirque due Soleil shows. It involves several yards of stretchy silk fabric in which the performer wraps herself in various ways and then lets go, seeming to free fall but then, magically, stops — just in time.

So popular is the annual Loveland show that it now plays for four performances on the theater’s main stage.

Life skills classes

Loveland’s newest course offering is the Hearty Kitchen Academy in which students learn culinary skills that will help them at home and also give them skills that will make them employable in the culinary industry.

With the opening of the Nancy Detert Residences at Loveland Village, many students will be able to live on their own or with the assistance of a full- or part-time companion. Culinary training is likely to prove helpful at home as well as on the job for these clients.

Located in the Lamoureux Clubhouse, the academy was funded by a $75,000 grant from Jane’s Trust.

The Detert Residences address parental concerns about what will happen to students who outlive parents, something that was rare years ago but is becoming the norm thanks to improved training and health care opportunities afforded by such places as Loveland.

Some clients today have been at Loveland since its beginning.

There already is a waiting list for the 42 one- and two-bedroom residences, which currently house 64 adults and 30 caregivers.

For clients who need a higher level of daytime support, Loveland offers the Phase II Sensory Center with a student/faculty ratio of three to five students to one instructor.

For the many students who are employable, Loveland provides employment coaches who work with the students during their on-the-job training periods.

Employers benefit from the on-the-job training, follow-up services and also receive tax credits.

Students take pride in being a productive part of the community.

Leadership change

Loveland is looking for a new president/CEO and also beginning a three-year study that includes the development of new programs to increase collaborative efforts, design a reliable funding model, develop a plan to optimize the use of Loveland’s campus and facilities and strengthen and clarify the brand of Loveland Village.

“As we embark on a search for a new CEO, our goal is to secure a leader to further propel this amazing organization into the future,” said board chairman Debbie LaPinska in a written statement on the Loveland website. “We are excited about what the future holds, and we are confident that we will find the right individual for our residents, students, their families and their caregivers, who we are here to serve.”

Editor’s note: Sue Erwin and Audrey Blackwell contributed to this story.



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