The Arc Jacksonville?s Life Skills program provides assistance for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in navigating through daily living routines. Offered at both the Downtown and Westside locations, the program teaches participants skills that are essential in helping them to lead more independent lives.

?The overall goal of the Life Skills program is for each individual to be able to do daily living skills as independently as possible,? said Shanikka DeCosta, who has worked with Life Skills for 10 years at the Downtown location.

Each participant has an individualized plan of skills to learn or improve upon based on their personal goals. In order to reach the participants? goals, communication is very important can vary for each person.? DeCosta says that it can be a challenge but the staff find different ways to ?communicate with each participant.

?We create communication boards with pictures so they can tap on the images to help better communicate their needs,? said DeCosta.

At Life Skills-Westside, Ina Martin, who supervises program activities, primarily uses sign language.

?We use sign language because a lot of the participants are autistic,? said Martin. ?It has really helped us to break through in communicating with a lot of them.?

The staff provides a comfortable learning environment for the participants. Because there are fewer participants in the Life Skills program, it makes it easier to create a one-to-one atmosphere between participants and staff members.

?I love the individuals, I love coming to work,? said Martin.? ?Even though I do the same thing every day, the individuals help make the experience different every day.?

Much of the staff feels their greatest reward is in what they?re able to give to the participants.

?To see participant?s progress is the best feeling in the world [and] knowing that you were a part of that,? said Williams.

Grace Murray, who also works in Life Skills-Downtown, enjoys helping contribute to the participants? growth. ?What I like about Life Skills is teaching participants things they didn?t know and watching them excel,? she said.

Over the years DeCosta has come to appreciate the ability to help others. ?It?s a good feeling to know that they?ve grown,? she said. ?When a person has the right tools they?re able to communicate better and reach their goals.?

Life Skills is a growth experience for the staff as well. Working in the program has helped the staff improve their own communication skills.

?While we teach, we learn from them,? said Markita Williams.

?I?ve learned that in Life Skills, this is a place of new adventures,? said Murray. ?I love the challenges I have to deal with on a daily basis and Life Skills is the place to be if you ask me.?

Written by: Alexandra McClain, AmeriCorps Development VISTA