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Club Challenge-The Bridge to Inclusive Employment and Community Enrichment

Clubs have always been an essential part of improving our inter-personal skills and building community. Imagine a group designed solely to empower those with different abilities, well Club Challenge is just that!

Club Challenge was founded in 2017 by the CEO of Challenge Enterprises, Nancy Keating. The organization was graciously funded by a special grant managed by the State of Florida’s Agency for Persons with Disabilities, which helps serve over 50,000 Floridians living with disabilities.  The goal of Club Challenge is to be the bridge for persons with different abilities to develop and nurture social engagement skills, while accomplishing personal and professional goals. These goals can be is achieved by participation in community events, volunteering opportunities, recreational outings, advocacy training and employment coaching.

Club Challenge members volunteer several hours a month contributing to their community. One such opportunity is with Waste Not Want Not, a non-profit organization located in Orange Park, Florida that helps distribute rescued wholesome foods to different areas in the community. Club Challenge volunteers contribute to this cause by assisting in the process of sorting and preparing food items for distribution. While volunteering, members learn employment related and social skills that they can use in their everyday lives, whether it be for a job interview or just approaching new acquaintances.

The Club also hosts inclusive programs and events throughout the year, including Gaming for Inclusion and Inclusion Works. Gaming for Inclusion began out of necessity during the pandemic when every event went virtual. Virtual friendship visits with the Gear Up Florida cycling team quickly turned into competitive gaming, allowing Club members to compete in an all-inclusive program in partnership with The Ability Experience.  A year after creating this program, the partnership grew to include Calmer Con created by Calm Passion founder, Adam Wilson. This convention is a sensory friendly sci-fi event that fosters a sense of community where inclusion is the focus. Gaming for Inclusion was a natural fit for this setting and quickly become the most popular experience at the Thrasher Horne Convention Center.

The pandemic also helped to give rise to Inclusion Works, a digital marketing skills program. In an effort to overcome the isolation we all experienced at the beginning of the shelter in place directives, the Club began to reach out to members via Zoom. These meetings became a showcase of members demonstrating their creative talents from music to visual arts and even comedy. The concept of Inclusion Works became a quest for Activities Coordinator, Stephanie Young, who believed with some equipment, mentoring, instruction, and development that some of the members of the Club could learn a valuable and desired skill set on their road to employment. As Challenge Enterprises was about to celebrate its 47th anniversary, Inclusion Works published its first project. Work is Power is a short video chronicling 24 hours and how individuals employed by and through Challenge Enterprises impact our community.

Club Challenge has also been recognized by the Paul E. & Klare N. Reinhold Foundation, Inc. for not only the outstanding services to the community, but for the essential services they provide to adults with differences on their road to greater independence and employment. One member who has become an ambassador for this mission, is Billy Larson.

Billy has been with the club for several months and takes pride in volunteering for his community, as well as taking part in organizational events and trainings. Through his work with the Vocational Rehab program, Billy improved his personal or professional skills to prepare him for an opportunity to seek greater independence through employment. Billy is currently employed at the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp Ball Park. Billy shows true grit as one of the most dedicated and willing members of the Club. “Since he started at Club Challenge, he has demonstrated nothing but positive personal growth. He has earned high marks and recognition from his employer for his outstanding efforts with guests at the ballpark, “remarked Jim Hickerson, a Supportive Employment Trainer with Challenge Enterprises. Billy has always had a passion for two things; sports and the Jacksonville Jaguars. He believes his time working for the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp will become a stepping stone to his true ‘Dream Job’ with the Jacksonville Jaguars at the TIAA Bank Stadium or tackle both opportunities with confidence. #InclusionWorks4Billy #Billy4Jags

To learn more about Challenge Enterprises and/or Club Challenge, please visit www.challengeenterprises.orgi

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