Formerly known as SWOP, Inspire is one of Seminole County’s most important resources for residents with intellectual or developmental disabilities. “Inspired” by its new name, the agency has a new leader and new energy to give clients the dignity and opportunity they deserve.
The nonprofit organization many in Seminole County remember as the Seminole Work Opportunity Program (SWOP) heads into 2017 with a new name, new director, new board members, and a renewed sense of purpose.
Now called Inspire of Central Florida, with a mission of “assisting uniquely abled adults to live, work, and succeed in the community,” the vocational rehabilitation organization occupies an expansive, 1970s-era building at Belle Avenue in Casselberry. About 70 clients go there to learn skills and earn money by offering services such as assembly work, mailer preparation, barcoding, shrink-wrapping, and woodworking.
“It’s amazing to me what they can accomplish – including a sight-impaired client we have who does everything by touch,” says Stephanie Ryan, Inspire’s new executive director. Inspire exists because too-few opportunities to work are available for adults with disabilities, leaving many idle and without a sense of purpose. Inspire offers a family atmosphere – at least three sets of siblings work there – and challenges clients to develop new skills both on the job and at home to build their independence.
For Stephanie, Inspire is personal. She has a brother with autism who worked at a similar workshop while Stephanie was growing up. She saw how the work gave her brother confidence and independence. Now, Stephanie is working to help Inspire reach its full potential with more money raised, more programs created, and more clients served.
Stephanie, a Sanford resident, spent 35 years working in law enforcement before coming to lead Inspire in July. She retired as a major with the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office. After 9/11, Stephanie worked locally with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force. On the surface, law enforcement and social-service work may not appear to mix, but in the aftermath of 9/11, Stephanie saw firsthand how open lines of communication between many different agencies can build a better nation and a better community.
Knowing more is accomplished when people work together, Stephanie hopes to further bridge the community with Inspire to empower its clients to succeed, and in some cases, to become employable outside of Inspire’s workshop.
Stephanie’s many former colleagues in Seminole County are supporting her and Inspire’s cause. Area police chiefs and many representatives from county government were among the attendees at Inspire’s recent Masks & Martinis fundraiser in October. One of the event’s organizers, Inspire board member Elise Eslinger, is the wife of recently retired Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger. Local business owners are on board, too. An area financing firm just donated a new pickup truck to help Inspire make deliveries. A public relations firm offered branding and logo services to go with Inspire’s new name. Handymen often come by the workshop to offer assistance, and other local companies constantly work to make sure Inspire is a safe, inviting, and inspiring place for clients to gather.
“There are people in the community who care about what we do,” Stephanie says with pride.
Looking ahead, Stephanie would like to offer dance classes, exercise classes, art classes, and more in Inspire’s second-floor space, but the area is in need of renovation. Adult day care is another service Stephanie would love to put in place, offering respite for caregivers. Hosting community-group meetings at Inspire is another way to make community connections, she says.
More projects for clients to tackle are also welcome, says Stephanie. “What we really need are business customers to let us do some work for them. That keeps the lights on and prevents us from having to dip into money we raise.”
Inspire’s next fundraiser is a golf tournament at Heathrow Country Club on Monday, May 8, and it’s a great way for the community to learn more about Inspire’s incredible work and indelible legacy.
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