Join us Feb. 8, 2022: College Matters Florida

Learn more about college for students with IDD

College Matters. It is the name of the project but also a statement. College for students with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (IDD) matters, a lot!

On February 8, we welcome Jaimie Timmons, coordinator of the College Matters Florida (CMF) project. Jaimie will explain the CMF project, it’s evolution and share key resources available to you, including a 5-part series of videos about inclusive secondary and postsecondary education.

CMF kicked off a multi-media educational awareness campaign in January 2022.  Jaimie, along with colleague, Sheila Johnson, will describe the campaign and explain how each one of use can help spread the message that college is a viable and transformative experience for transitioning youth and young adults with IDD in Florida.

Register today!

If you have questions, you may contact Nancy Nickolaus at

Division of Blind Services: Supporting Employment Staff to Meet District Service Goals during Challenging Times

The Division of Blind Services (DBS) is under the Department of Education and includes 15 district offices throughout the state that provide a full range of services to Floridians who are blind and visually impaired. Staff at the state level ensure that each of the 15 district offices has the information and skills to meet its employment placement goals. Over the past five years, including during the COVID-19 public health emergency in 2020-21, DBS has met or exceeded its annual goals.

At the beginning of the most recent fiscal year on July 1, 2020, the COVID-19 public health emergency brought a new set of challenges to job seekers supported by DBS. However, the public health emergency did not stop DBS clients from obtaining employment and it did not stop the district offices from meeting or exceeding their goals. In fact, the combined total of successful employment closures for all the district offices for FY 2021 was 788, 33 more than the annual total goal of 75

“This was a great accomplishment for our DBS team due to the uncertainty that the pandemic brought to each district office area, where COVID numbers and safety measures were affected differently by higher numbers in some areas more than others,” DBS’s business program consultant Stacy Smith shared.

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Online event recording available: Benefits Planning & Work Incentives

October 26, 2021: Benefits Planning & Work Incentives: Busting Barriers to Employment Event

People with disabilities or their family members may be hesitant to work due to fears about losing health care and other benefits.  This month’s online event provided information about work incentives and resources that can help eliminate these concerns.

Focusing on the Social Security, Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) program, our speaker Lesly Quintanilla Lopez highlighted a variety or rules and work incentives that can help people work, retain health care and increase financial security. She stressed the importance of being proactive and provided tools that can help. If you or someone you know is interested in working and receives SSI or SSDI contact the WIPA expert in your area.  Don’t know your local Community Work Incentive Coordinator?  You can find your local WIPA provider by zip code and other information in the the attached resources.

Click here to watch the event recording


Find a local WIPA provider by zip code. Choose the Benefits Counseling WIPA dropdown option: Http://

Ticket to Work Helpline: 1-866-968-7842

Visit the Social Security Administration and learn more about SSA Benefits and work supports:

To learn to take control of your finances and build financial independence at Check out money management tools like household budget worksheets and a financial savings calculator.

10.26 SSA beneficiaries, how a CWIC can help you [PDF]

10.26 Asset Building for Individuals with Disabilities [PDF]

Financial Planning Resources

“Financial independence is possible!”

With hard work, planning, education, training, and support from Social Security, Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) , employment support providers and others you can have a good job, good career, and a better, self-supporting future. Here are some resources that can help you access WIPA support and information on available work incentives! Being proactive is important and these tools can help put you in the drivers seat to increased independence.

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Lesly Quintanilla Lopez: The Impact of Work on Benefits (October 2021)

The Impact of Work on Benefits: Worried about losing public benefits? Competitive employment IS an option! Benefits Planning & Work Incentives: Busting Barriers to Employment  

Tuesday, October 26, 2021, 3-4pm ET.

Guest speaker: Lesly Quintanilla Lopez is the executive director for The Keys Advocacy Center, Center for Independent Living where she is responsible for a multi-county, community-based project from SSA and for the Independent Living program covering the Florida Keys.  As an advocate for people with disabilities and the elderly for the last 14 years, her skills and areas of expertise include advocacy, disability issues, and health insurance specifically Medicare.

 Lesly enjoys serving and contributing to her community and she is currently involved with:

  • The Alliance for Aging, as part of the Board of Directors, and volunteering for the SHINE program as an Area Coordinator for Monroe County since 2009 and
  • The Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) educating Medicare beneficiaries in how to prevent fraud to Medicare since Feb 2014
  • Disability Independent Group (DIG) as a newsletter contributor since April 2014

The American Red Cross Greater Miami and the Keys Chapter as a Community Volunteer Leader.  In this volunteer role, she serves as an ambassador for the Red Cross in Monroe County.  She also sits on the Red Cross South Florida Disability Integration Team since May 2019.  This year, 2021, Lesly was named the Disaster Cycle Services Preparedness Volunteer of the Year!

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Lesly was awarded The Golden Choices Volunteer of the year recognition from the Department of Elders Affairs State of Florida some years back for her volunteer services to SHINE program from the Alliance for Aging.  Some of her hobbies and special interests include spending time with her family, reading and being involved in serving her community.   Lesly has been happily married for the last 28 years and lives in Homestead, which is a 45-minutes ride from the beautiful Florida Keys where she works.

Learn more about past and upcoming presentations.

Mentors offer Support and Connection to Students Navigating Educational Challenges

When a student is at risk for poor educational outcomes because of a significant disability, medical issue, or emotional or behavioral problem, a mentor may be able to provide a unique, invaluable form of support different from the support teachers, other professionals, or family members provide. This is what mentors in the Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resource System (FDLRS) provide to students in school and students transitioning to work or postsecondary education:

The FDLRS is made up of six regional multidisciplinary centers (MDCs), each connected to a local university. When educational professionals identify students who may benefit from assessment and support, they can arrange for these services through the center closest to them.

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project search logo

July 2021 archive: Project SEARCH: Looking to the Future

Recording from the July 20, 2021 presentation: Project SEARCH: Looking to the Future

Project SEARCH is a proven school to work transition program where youth experience a combination of classroom instruction, career exploration, and relevant job-skills training at a local business. Building a successful program takes commitment, teamwork and problem solving. One reason Project SEARCH works? Workplace immersion. What is this? And how does it help students? What should you do at the local level? Join us and learn more!


Patti Langford, ESE transition specialist, Nassau County School District

Join us July 20 at 3pm to learn about the benefits of Project SEARCH!

Project SEARCH is a proven school to work transition program where youth experience a combination of classroom instruction, career exploration, and relevant job-skills training at a local business. Building a successful program takes commitment, teamwork and problem solving. One reason Project SEARCH works? Workplace immersion. What is this? And how does it help students? What should you do at the local level? Join us and learn more! 

What: Project SEARCH in Florida: Transitioning to Work 
When: Tuesday, July 20, 2021, 3-4pm ET 
Register now! 

Patti Langford, ESE transition specialist, Nassau County School District 
Donna Thompson, VR employment specialist, Nassau County School District 

EmployU Prepares Adults for Success at Work

Description of the practice:

EmployU is a one-stop career service provider that began its work in 2012 and now serves 40 Florida counties from 20 regional offices. Its customers are youth and adults with disabilities referred through the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD), and the American Dream Employment Network (ADEN).

EmployU’s services include assessments, employment skills training, support with resume development and interviewing, and paid work experiences. Students access many of these services through EmployU’s virtual pre-placement training program. The week-long class offers access to extensive, convenient training to help individuals prepare for or return to the world of work. The class combines instruction with interaction through learning exercises, discussions, and quizzes.

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