Special Pops- A True Cape Coral "Hidden Gem"

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Jeff Koehn's picture
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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.

The People

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

While the participants amazed me, I can also say that I am in awe of the staff and volunteers I had a chance to meet while I was at the center. Watching them interact with the members you can see that this is more than just a job to them. They take special pride in each accomplishment, both small and large that participants make. The staff and volunteers take the time to not only work with the members, but to do so in a way that exudes patience and caring, a quality that most could not do if they were in their position. The center certainly does not lack volunteers. On the day I visited the center two volunteers Ruth and Angie, from the Dr. Piper Center for Social Services were there interacting with the members. Each enjoying every moment they had with the group. I asked Angie what keeps her coming back to the center and she quickly replied, “I love these kids” and it was obvious she truly did.

An Involved Community

As I mentioned at the beginning of my story, the center has many generous people willing to donate their time, money or help raise funds for the center; Sara was quick to mention groups like the Kiwanis Club, Knights of Columbus, Special Equestrians, Diamond Billiards and others as organizations and businesses that help the center in many different ways. Of course, one group you can’t forget to mention is the Guardian Angels. The Guardian Angels are devoted to helping the center and its members in many different ways. When you start looking into all they do for the center you quickly realize their importance to the whole program. So much so, they could be a story on their own (and hopefully will soon be).

While many in the community get involved by donating time, money and items, the center also hosts a number of fundraisers each year to help raise money for the center. One such event, The Rock n’ Roll Dinner Dance, is taking place this Saturday. The Rock n’ Roll Dinner Dance is in its eighth year and provides music, food, raffles and much more with a 50’s twist. Tickets are still available for $20 in advance. If you would like more information on this event you can call (239) 574-0574.

Time To Say Goodbye

While I had intended spending an hour or so at the center to get my information for my story, by the time I left I realized I had spent close to three hours there. For a person who has a packed schedule without 15 minutes to spare much less two extra hours I can honestly say those three hours I spent with Special Pops was an amazing experience and one I will never forget and encourage those with even the busiest schedules to try and take time to help or visit the center. To Sara Sansone, her staff and the volunteers; it is amazing what you do and I hope you understand the importance of what you do and the affect you have on others. To the members; you are truly an amazing group of people. I wish I had half of your energy and enthusiasm. Meeting you all was truly my honor and privilege.

If you never had the chance to get involved with this wonderful program, you are truly missing out on your own life changing experience. I would encourage everyone to get involved in some way, shape or form with this center. After spending one morning there, I now see why it is called one of Cape Coral’s “Hidden Gems”.