By Janis Fontaine
Not far from the intersection of Spanish River Boulevard and Dixie Highway in Boca Raton, a gathering of adults with disabilities is singing and dancing, doing crafts, laughing with friends and playing games. Some are learning to play the piano.
The activities are part of Twin Palms Center for the Disabled, which has been serving the community for 50 years by nurturing adults with physical or developmental disabilities. About a dozen men and women from their early 20s to their 60s come to the center, which is open Monday through Friday, for fun, friendship and field trips.
David and Linda Pilossof of Boca Raton have been taking their son Robert, 41, to the center for about three years. They like the program because it’s small and intimate, giving Robert lots of personal attention.
But the Pilossofs, who are avid bike riders, say the biggest difference between this and other programs is the fitness aspect. David said that at Robert’s former program, “he was sitting down constantly. It was important to us that he get exercise. At Twin Palms, they go and do lot of things: the zoo, the library. And they go bowling every week.”
The Pilossofs found the program when David noticed the clients playing basketball. He noticed they were having fun and were well-supervised. He saw the logo on the side of the van and called.
Executive Director Christopher Berens says most people discover Twin Palms through word-of-mouth and admits the center is one of the best-kept secrets in town, but not intentionally. “We’re a hidden gem,” he laughs.
Berens has held the reins at Twin Palms for just over a year, but he started as a volunteer. While studying music at FAU, he created his system — a novel way to teach piano that was easy to learn. He wondered if it would work with special needs students, so he brought the program to Twin Palms to try it out.
“Most of them get it,” Berens said. And most can play a familiar tune right away, which builds self-esteem and excitement.
As a result, music has become a big part of the program, with Berens playing the piano and singing with residents every day. Berens, who has degrees in music and psychology, said, “I always felt drawn to special needs and I discovered I had a way with this population. The need for programs is great.”
But not all programs are the same. “This is a fully recreational program,” Berens said. Because it has no vocational component, the center doesn’t qualify for state money.
Tuition at Twin Palms is affordable, in part because it owns the building, so there’s no Boca-sized rent or mortgage, but the center depends on grants and gifts and hosts a few fundraisers each year.
Berens would like to serve more clients, but not too many. Because the group is small, Berens said, “we get to know them as people.”
For the Pilossofs, that was another plus. At another program, there were too many people and Robert got lost in the crowd.
Small groups make it easier to take nature walks and field trips to places like Butterfly World, a favorite destination. “Mobility is important,” Berens said. “We do fun stuff, and they want to go.”
Also important to Berens: “Our clients have friendships, and a place where they’re respected.”
David says Robert is “more comfortable” and “he gets more attention.” Plus, lunch is provided, which saves parents and caretakers a few more minutes, and dollars, each day.
Twin Palms was born out of necessity in 1968 when a group of parents of children with developmental delays arrived at a common but perplexing predicament: what to do with their children who had aged out of the public school system.
A half century ago, services were scarce or expensive and often both. The parents’ solution was to start their own program and the Boca Raton Society for the Disabled, now Twin Palms Center for the Disabled, was born.
On Nov. 10, Twin Palms will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a picnic. The city of Boca Raton will recognize Twins Palms for its continuing contributions to the community. Over the years, Twin Palms has helped more than 300 people reach their potential, Berens said.
There’s a lot that David and Linda Pilossof could say about Twin Palms, but the only thing that really matters to them is this: “Robert loves it.”
If you go
What: Twin Palms 50th Anniversary Picnic
When: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Nov. 10
Where: Twin Palms Center, 306 NW 35th St., Boca Raton.
With: Bounce houses, face painting, entertainment, a silent auction, food by Mississippi Sweets and 5 Spice Asian Street Market, and a special proclamation from Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer.
Cost: $20 adults, $15 children, includes lunch.
Info/tickets: 391-4874 or www.TwinPalmsCenter.org