Noah’s Ark– Changing the Lives of Lakeland Families One by One
By Taylor Flumerfelt
Local nonprofit fulfills the ever-present need of independent residences for the developmentally challenged.
LAKELAND, Fla. – In 1996, five families began the search for a facility whose mission is to take care of developmentally challenged people after which they could create their own organization. These five families did not want to only give back to the community; they were worried about the future of their developmentally challenged children. What would happen to their children after they passed away? The answer to this question was unclear and they sought to answer it through researching the many services available all over the country.
In 1997, Noah’s Ark was established and a national search ensued for an organization that implements a holistic approach. The five families found what they were looking for in Libertyville, Illinois: Lambs Farm.
In 1998, Noah’s Ark completed its research of residential service providers for the developmentally challenged and established its values and goals through the creation of a mission statement.
Noah’s Ark established a weekly activities program for the developmentally challenged of Lakeland in 1999.
In 2000, Noah’s Ark partnered with the Exceptional Student Education (ESE) Department of Polk County Public Schools in order to create a high school-level class designed to facilitate ESE students in transitioning from school to work. This course provides students with the skills they will need to survive in the workforce and helps to have them placed in a job before graduating high school. Since then, the program has had a 90% success rate and was named the state of Florida’s best ESE program.
The First United Methodist Church of Lakeland bought and subsequently donated to Noah’s Ark three acres of land in Lakeland near Lake Morton in 2001. Together, Noah’s Ark and the First United Methodist Church of Lakeland built Noah’s Ark’s first supported-living home. Construction began on that home in 2002 through the help of Noah’s Ark and First United Methodist Church of Lakeland volunteers. Through the support of several community businesses and organizations, Noah’s Ark completed construction on the first home in 2002. Three residents moved into this home, which would later be known as the Noah’s Nest community, in 2003.
Noah’s Ark acquired 56 acres of residential development property in North Lakeland in 2004 with the help of State Senator Paula Dockery, Governor Jeb Bush, and the City of Lakeland Community Development Department.
In 2006, Noah’s Ark gained the help of architect Giles Blunden who designed a master site plan for Noah’s Landing, which will become a pedestrian-oriented residential community on the 56 acres of residential development property secured in 2004.
Through donations from various community members, organizations, and businesses, an additional supported-living home was constructed at Noah’s Nest along with a detached garage featuring a two-bedroom apartment on the second floor.
Noah’s Ark presented Noah’s Landing at the Family Café Annual Conference in 2008, which launched the educating of families across the state regarding developmental challenges and supported-living residencies.
A Florida statue was challenged by Noah’s Ark in 2009 in an attempt to allow supported-living residencies to be built within planned residential communities. Even though the session did not end in the passage of the proposed legislation, legislators and state officials were able to gain a greater knowledge of Noah’s Ark and similar services.
In 2010, a coalition of grassroots organizations, stretching from Jacksonville, Florida to Venice, Florida, was created with the intentions of addressing the large need for supported-living residences for the developmentally challenged.
Since that time, one of the homes at Noah’s Nest has been remodeled and Noah’s Ark has moved into a larger office in order to accommodate the growth of the organization.
Jack Kosik, the executive director of Noah’s Ark and a part of one of the families that helped to found Noah’s Ark, feels that Noah’s Ark is his life calling from God. He describes the main goal of Noah’s Ark as helping the developmentally challenged grow independent with the support of their parents. According to Kosik, the need for supported-living residencies is so large because this is the 1st generation of developmentally challenged children and adults who are outliving their parents. Numerous outside organizations want to achieve the same goal as Noah’s Ark and Kosik says that Noah’s Ark can help them do exactly that.
Kosik identified two challenges that Noah’s Ark is facing as the dirt will be turned soon for Noah’s Landing. The first is the issue of raising funds in order to pay the staff that will be employed to help maintain Noah’s Landing. Noah’s Ark has always been volunteer-based, but the large amount of growth that has ensued over the years calls for a staff. The second problem is that many families are losing faith and becoming patient. Noah’s Landing has been several years in the making and manifold families involved with Noah’s Ark have been waiting for the moment that Noah’s Landing becomes a reality. Noah’s Ark is helping more families in crisis than ever and Kosik knows that ultimately, God is in control.