Brevard Achievement Center: 55 Years of Employment & Empowerment
Joyce Cassel, Brevard Achievement Center’s third client, has been participating in the organization’s enrichment and arts program for adults with disabilities since the agency opened in 1968.
“It’s like home to me,” she said.
Joyce enjoys her time at BAC’s art studio, where she works with clay and paint, but her favorite activity is crocheting.
“It’s always fun to crochet,” said Joyce, who likes to make potholders for her family and friends.
Joseph “Joey” Gott, on the other hand, graduated from BAC’s LaunchIT job training program and is now happily employed with Artemis IT in Melbourne.
“Before I started the LaunchIT program, I wasn’t very sure of what I wanted to do with my life,” he said. “I always had computers as my hobby but couldn't figure out how to make it a career. LaunchIT helped me turn that hobby into a career and gave me the training I needed to jumpstart it. It has truly changed what I thought my future would be. I now see myself excelling at IT and looking forward to work each day. I'm now doing something I love.”
While there is a wide difference between Joyce’s and Joey’s need for services, both are doing something they enjoy and excel at, thanks to Brevard Achievement Center, which has been there for both of them, as they have for the more than 3,500 people the nonprofit serves each year.
“We are continuously evolving our programs to meet the needs of our participants,” said Keri Goff, director of community relations.
The agency is among the largest in the country providing employment and empowerment programs to individuals with cognitive or physical disabilities, as well as veterans struggling with PTSD. Its history begins in 1968, when Brevard County Community Achievement Center was born, giving Brevard residents with disabilities the opportunity to train and receive work experience without having to travel to larger metropolitan areas, such as Tampa.
Its goal then, as it remains to this day, was to build dignity, independence and self-respect, make taxpayers out of tax users and prevent institutionalization. A tiny staff served seven clients, Joyce included, from offices at 1845 Cogswell Street in Rockledge, where the agency, renamed Brevard Achievement Center in 1975, remains, albeit in larger digs.
“We now have five buildings at our Rockledge campus, two of them new this year,” added Goff.
Out of the approximately 750 employees BAC has on staff around the country, more than 375 work in Brevard, with 148 employees at the Rockledge campus. Around 620 employees are individuals with disabilities. Through corporate and government partnerships, BAC is able to offer employment opportunities to more than 600 people at federal contract sites in Virginia, North Carolina, Puerto Rico and Florida. Locally, members of Team BAC are employed at locations including Patrick Space Force Base, Port Canaveral, the Veteran’s Affairs Clinic and Kennedy Space Center.
Before the advent of Brevard Achievement Center in the late 1960s, Space Coast students enrolled in exceptional student education programming in Brevard Public Schools faced an uncertain future upon graduation.
“It was still common practice for someone with disabilities to be sent to an institution to live out their lives,” Goff explained.
Brevard students with disabilities can now explore career opportunities through BAC’s Practical Applications of Career Exploration, or PACE, program, which encompasses interview preparation, resumé writing, proper interview attire and soft skills etiquette so students can more successfully transition into the working world.
Job-ready participants are offered employment assistance and job matching through vocational rehabilitation. BAC’s on-the-job training helps participants diversify their resumé to improve employment chances. The Discovery assists job seekers or those returning to the workforce after an extended time away find the best path for the best job for them.
A partnership between BAC and Codecraft Works, LaunchIT combines Codecraft’s STEM-based, blended learning approach with BAC’s wraparound services to fill entry level information technology positions and increase job opportunities for people with disabilities. The virtual program reaches participants from as far away as California. Graduates enter the workforce with credentials, knowledge and soft skills needed to succeed.
Individuals who, like Joyce, need a more supervised environment in which to thrive can rely on BAC’s adult day training. The life-enrichment program provides opportunities for individuals not currently interested in employment but eager to increase their independence and self-esteem. Classes are offered in budgeting, cooking, social etiquette and more. This group also is very active in community outings and special events.
BAC parent Kathy Abelove calls the program, “the Harvard of day programs.” The family moved to Brevard from Orlando so Abelove’s son could attend the day program.
BAC ARTS FOR ALL
The organization’s art program, like BAC, touches many.
“The arts are a level playing field,” explained art program manager Lee Sorensen. “Even people who aren’t that skilled can participate and gain a sense of achievement.”
Eighty five participants in the adult day training program channel their inner artist by working in a variety of mediums, from fused glass to watercolor painting, in the agency’s on-site art studio.
The artists sell their creations at the gallery in the lobby of BAC’s Rockledge headquarters, as well as at local art fairs, special events and retail outlets like Downtown Gallery in Titusville.
BAC’s studio also offers an inclusive arts program for students ages 6 and up in exceptional student education classes. Visiting artists provided by BAC help students explore dance, music, acting and more.
The BAC Arts Festival at Brevard Zoo brings together more than 1,000 exceptional students and their teachers for three days of art-making and hands-on learning.
The centerpiece of the arts program is the annual Performing Arts Showcase held at the King Center main stage. Slated for Oct. 25 this year, the showcase is a golden opportunity for the 150 student and adult performers to let their creative talents shine.
“It is such a positive experience,” Sorensen said. “By the end of the show, there is not a dry eye in the audience.”
Through art, through employment opportunities, through life skills training, Brevard Achievement Center opens worlds for some who otherwise would be without so many options. It does not matter whether the participants, like Joyce, need help throughout their lives, or, like Joey, just some help opening doors to a good job. Brevard Achievement Center helps each participant blossom in their own way.
“The end goal is to find everyone’s strength,” Sorensen said.
Brevard Achievement Center
1845 Cogswell St., Rockledge