Special Pops- A True Cape Coral "Hidden Gem"
When I meet people in the community and discuss CapeCoral.com with them one question I always ask is “Tell me someone, something or someplace that makes Cape Coral special”. The one response I kept getting back more than any other was the Special Populations Program at the Freida B. Smith Special Populations Center.
Recently I had the honor of going to the center and seeing what everyone was talking about. I can tell you after spending a couple hours there with the participants, staff and volunteers; I now see why so many people call the program one of Cape Coral’s “hidden gems”.
The Special Pops Program
The Special Pops program has been in Cape Coral for 31 years. People move to Cape Coral just to be near the center. The program has become so popular that in 2002 the city added an extension that almost doubled the size of the building.
To give you an idea of how important the program is to our community, one needs only look at the raw numbers. 180 people are currently part of the program, 80 to 100 attend each day, 40 of those participating are involved in the offsite adult training program, and 18 participants are involved in Project Opportunity Enclaves ADT offsite program, a program that gives participants the opportunity to work at various locations around the city.
When I arrived at the center I was greeted by Program Director, Sara Sansone. Sara has been working at the center for over 20 years. With her attitude and enthusiasm for what she does you would think she had only been there for six months. Sara began showing me the facility and introducing me to some of the people who are part of the program. As each came up and introduced themselves it was obvious that each enjoyed the being part of the program and the many activities the program has to offer.
Plenty To Do
Sara took the time to show me around the individual programs the center had to offer. It was amazing how much activity filled the center. As I walked around with Sara and met the many participants, I was amazed at how much the center offers those who attend. They have offsite jobs programs, where members go out and work at various city locations in the community, doing jobs like plant maintenance, garbage collection, duties at Pops Café, and much more. They have many in house activities for members to not only enjoy, but learn from; exercise, video games, sewing, Spanish classes, a travel club that goes out twice per week to visit residents at local assisted living facilities, one group takes weekly trips to the grocery store, buys food and the next day the members get together and cook a meal from scratch. This has become one of the most popular activities at the center, so much so that members have to take turns each week. Sara pointed out the reason for all of these activities were to hopefully make the members more active at home when they are not at the facility.
Plenty To Learn
While activities are a plenty at the center, educational programs are also readily available. The program teaches their members things like money skills, the rights and responsibilities each of them have in everyday life, safety lessons and they partner with Cape Coral High School to offer computer classes. One group named Project Group C focuses on such things as academics, making Thank You cards to the many community residents and organizations that assist the program. The group recently began publishing their own newspaper called “Almost Truth”, which takes a look at the people and things going on at the center in a humorous way. The group also recently participated in a program called “Fly Me To The Moon”. This program has members painting canvases to be displayed at the Southwest Florida Regional Airport from May to September. Heading up this group is Vincent Marcucci, who recently returned to the center in October after a brief time away, “The people is what brought me back. You can’t get any more rewarding than the feedback you get here. It is indescribable,” said Marcucci.
What truly makes the center special are those people who participate in the program. I can tell you firsthand, when you meet and talk to them it leaves an endearing impression that when you leave the center you can’t help but feel impressed. I had the opportunity to speak to a number of members and each one had a smile that warmed your heart and enthusiasm that made you look at what you do and question whether it was enough. Each member has a choice in what they do or don’t do and can become as heavily involved as they want. Two such members I met were brothers, Dominic and Vito, now in their 20’s both have been coming to the program since they were small children. Both Dominic and Vito work jobs; Vito at Lowe’s and Dominic at Home Depot, both graduated from North Fort Myers High School, and both attend not only the daytime programs, but never miss the Sports Night evening program. There was Keith, who enthusiastically told me he has been coming to the center since it opened 31 years ago. There were countless others I met that I wish I had the space to name them all. Each with their own story and list of accomplishments they attained while coming to the center. I did however get a chance to take a couple of pictures. You can view them by going to our Special Populations photo gallery
The Staff and Volunteers