The children and special needs adults depending on Easter Seals programs in the Sarasota-Bradenton area will see some welcome improvements.
A release of this year’s Senate Supplemental Funding Initiatives — the “sprinkle list” — shows Easter Seals of Southwest Florida a winner.
The organization secured $525,000 for a capital improvement project at its Sarasota area campus and $343,000 for education and vocational training.
That’s money Easter Seals executives promise will pay the state back in dividends.
“Every dollar spent will save $17 in future costs,” said Tom Waters, president and CEO for Easter Seals Southwest Florida. “It takes a minimal investment to have a maximum impact.”
State Reps. Tommy Gregory and Will Robinson, both Republican freshmen, led the push for funding this year.
Surely, they had some help for the fact the Easter Seals campus sits in Florida Senate President Bill Galvano’s home district.
“I cannot express the deep gratitude that we feel for the commitment, vision, and hard work that was exhibited by our Senate and House,” said George Pfeiffer, vice president of marketing and development for Easter Seals of Southwest Florida.
“With the exceptional leadership of Sen. Galvano and the never-quit representation of Reps. Robinson and Gregory, combined with the great behind-the-scenes work of (Sen.) Joe Gruters, those in our community who have unique and varied abilities that are currently being served, as well as those that need to be served, are now on track to realize some amazing and wonderful improvements in their daily lives. “
Gregory suggested Easter Seals’ solid statewide reputation made the project an easy sell. He sought funding for the skills training.
“Long-term, it’s not just a socially responsible, morally ethical thing to do,” he said. “It’s also fiscally responsible.”
In particular, the vocational training element offered education and workforce appeal. Programs at Easter Seal help individuals with debilitating disorders, many of whom may otherwise pose a net drain on social services, to develop skills to participate positively in the economy.
The Easter Seals program also sought money to improve its grade school campus. The organization provides education for a number of children with varying degrees of autism and other disorders, mixing those students in with normal-ability peers.
Robinson handled the fight for capital dollars to help the school. He saw the program as a way to ease burdens on public schools, where the focus remains on traditional students.
“It’s not only great for children who have been dealt a bad hand,” he said. “It’s spending less money down the road for special education services. I’m a big believer in the program.”