Local nonprofit organization provides a plethora of activities for individuals with developmental disabilities.
Just over four years ago, Jeff Albro began his journey for freedom and independence. His developmental disability would no longer prevent him from fulfilling his dreams. Yet his new life soon came to an abrupt, unexpected halt. After a few months of living autonomously in a Plant City public housing project, Albro was beaten and robbed—an experience that left his body bloody, broken and bruised. However, the severe emotional distress that resulted from the incident affected Albro more than the temporary physical damage.
“He became a recluse,” said Agnes Albro, Jeff’s mother. “He closed the shades. He didn’t meet neighbors. He was scared.”
In fact, Jeff Albro was so afraid to leave his apartment it cost him his job.
Desperate to find a better life for her son, Agnes, along with her husband Gordy Albro, contacted several organizations dedicated to assisting individuals with developmental disabilities. After hours of searching for help, one woman presented Agnes with the greatest blessing her family would ever receive: “I’ll give you this number. It’s Jack Kosik.”
Jack Kosik is the executive director of Noah’s Ark of Central Florida, a nonprofit organization committed to empowering people with developmental disabilities. Not only does Noah’s Ark provide affordable and accessible housing for individuals with mild to moderate impairments, but, unlike most institutional and group settings for the disabled, Noah’s Ark hosts a large number of social and recreational activities for residents to enjoy.
“We try and offer an array of activities in an effort to appeal to the interest of as many people as possible,” said Kosik. “We recently had a sock hop party with 50s-themed dancing and karaoke where ‘Elvis’ performed. We served hot dogs and hamburgers. I believe we had 84 people attend.”
The Noah’s Ark neighborhood has also hosted a prom and a Hawaiian luau—complete with a pig roast. In addition, craft nights draw large crowds as attendees learn new artistic skills during each session, from oil painting to jewelry making.
Kosik also encourages residents to enter into the surrounding community, to experience life outside of the intimate Noah’s Ark neighborhood. For example, the organization has coordinated trips to Lakeland Flying Tigers games, Lakeland Center arena football contests, PicassoZ Art Cafe ceramics classes, and local movie theaters. Residents recently visited the Confusion Corn Maze where they zigzagged among giant tangles of corn stalks, enjoyed a hay ride and ate popcorn. Furthermore, they were invited to a Thanksgiving Celebration at the First United Methodist Church on Lake Morton Drive.
Although Noah’s Ark residents enjoy these special community-building events, the athletic activities offered at Orange Bowl Lanes, Kelly Recreation Complex, and First Tee Golf Course are more popular choices for recreational fun.
“We found that bowling, basketball and golf had larger and more consistent participation, so we made them our “almost weekly” activities,” said Kosik.
Along with these physical activities, monthly tennis lessons and aerobics classes encourage Noah’s Ark residents to practice healthy lifestyles. In fact, medical professionals affirm regular recreational activity is extremely important for individuals with developmental disabilities as they are more prone to heart disease, stroke, respiratory problems and other chronic conditions. However, many health care providers fail to acknowledge these facts, believing most developmentally disabled individuals are incapable of handling even mild physical activity.
“Learned helplessness is truly the greatest crippler anyone can experience,” said Bob Williams, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Deputy Assistant Secretary. “Many people with disabilities have unfortunately learned to be passive, if not completely disengaged, where questions of their own health and well being are concerned.”
While many people with developmental disabilities are trapped in an institutional setting that offers little physical, emotional, social and intellectual stimulation, Noah’s Ark is committed to creating a safe environment where residents can grow holistically.
“Noah’s [Ark] creates a community,” said Kosik. “A place to belong, a place where you are accepted for who you are, a place where your neighbors care about you and watch out for you, a place to grow.”
Many people, including Charlene Schultz, are beginning to see the growth occurring in Noah’s Ark residents. An instructor at Southeastern University, Schultz teaches several residents in her classes.
“Students who live at Noah’s Ark and are in my class are more likely to make their own decisions and to do so with more confidence,” said Schultz. “Their daily experiences, requiring decisions and acting on those decisions, reinforce that sometimes they may make a wrong decision, but that they can keep going and learn from those mistakes.”
No one, however, recognizes more growth than Agnes Albro. Four years ago, after his tragic encounter, Jeff Albro entered the Noah’s Ark program, head down and heart broken. Yet because of the countless activities and loving atmosphere provided by Jack Kosik and the Noah’s Ark program, Jeff finally gained freedom and independence.
“He has friends and activities,” said Agnes Albro. “His horizons have been broadened tremendously. It’s been an opening up for Jeff…He has been more social now than he has been in 30 years…He’s really blossoming because of Noah’s Ark and doing things now that he never did in many, many years.”
“He participates in almost all of the Noah’s Ark activities,” said Kosik. “He recently organized a guitar jam and cookout at his home.”
The event planner also happens to be a champion golfer. Jeff placed second in the Florida State Special Olympics golf tournament and took home the gold medal in last week’s invitational at First Tee. Through discovering his talents and forming loving relationships, Jeff has evolved into a new person.
“He smiles now,” said Agnes Albro. “Actually, he smiles a lot.”