Adults with developmental differences make Christmas magic

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It may not be Santa’s toy factory at the North Pole but at one of the many workshops at Pine Castle Inc. in Englewood, helpers like Jerald spread holiday cheer in the most unique way.

“I make sandbags and put it in the bags. Then put it in the box,.” Jerald said. “I really like it.”

Jerald and his fellow helpers make luminaria kits. Each kit comes with 12 white flat-bottom bags, 12 white votive candles, and 2 bags of premium sand. In box form, it may seem like an ordinary combination. That is until you see the Christmas magic when all lit up.

At Pine Castle, the students aged 22 and up receive hands-on life skills and work training so they can get a job and live independently to the best of their abilities. Lori Ann Whittington is Pine Castle’s CEO.

“When they’re here at Pine Castle, they learn interpersonal skills,” Whittington said. “They learn confidence. They learn independence so they can be just like everyone else.”

Through the project, these students earn a paycheck. Whittington also says it helps give the students a sense of self-sufficiency.

“They’re an asset to many communities and companies that we place them with,” Whittington said.

You won’t have to wait for a visit from Santa. Hundreds of kits are packed up and ready to go. The farthest request, so far, has been from New York. Best of all, they each come with a secret surprise.

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