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Turning 22 event promotes skills, understanding

Students learn the skill of making a dump cake.

Students learn the skill of making a dump cake.

Photo courtesy Turning 22

Photo courtesy Turning 22

Students learn the skill of making a dump cake.

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The scents of pineapple and cherry dump cakes surrounded the group of students, adults and participants as Turning 22’s Cooks, Crafts, and Computers Workshop wrapped up with a treat prepared by the participants. According to its website, Turning 22’s purpose is to “provide continued Life Skills and Education to young adults (primarily in the age range of 22-30) with certain Physical and Intellectual Disabilities.”

During the event, which was held on Dec. 10, 2016, students in BETA Club, Student Government Association (SGA) and Business Professionals of America (BPA) partnered with the participants of Turning 22. They worked on skills such as baking a cake, creating crafts, and using a computer.

The school was a natural location for the event, since Math for College Readiness teacher Paul Wilkie is one of the founders of the organization. Wilkie’s son, Michael, was born with Down syndrome.  

“When you are a parent and you leave your kid at age 14, you’re mostly frightened, but you know they can take care of themselves,” Wilkie said. “But when you’re the parent of a child with special needs the fear is heightened; therefore, these classes help teach them the skills to not only be able to take care of themselves now, but in the future as well.”

Wilkie’s wife, Denise Wilkie, is another founder and the CEO of the organization. According to D. Wilkie’s letter on the website, Turning 22 aims to assist “the many young adults that have or are currently aging out of the public school system.”

“One of our goals is to make a college-like campus especially for the special needs students, with everything that a normal college campus would have,” P. Wilkie said. “We strive to teach special needs kids life skills, classes to help them be prepared for their life in the future.”

Instructional literacy coach Melisa Cruz, a BPA sponsor, said that the clubs got involved because the event needed volunteers.

“What better way to serve our community and get to know the students of Turning 22?” Cruz said.

Junior Alexandria Alexander, a BETA Club member, was drawn to sign up for the event.

“I have always wanted to work with special needs children, and I plan to for the future,” Alexander said. “I feel we look at them as not ‘normal’ people, but they are, and it led me to respect and love them for them.”

Alexander stated that the event’s atmosphere was inviting for everyone.

“A lot of adults from Turning 22 came to help,” Alexander said. “It felt very comforting, and no one felt out of place or embarrassed. For instance, there was a student with a speech problem and he was encouraged to talk more and interact, and you could see the happiness on his face that people were there to spend some time with him.”

This social interaction, and the event’s structure, provided even more skill-building opportunities.

“We went to check on the cake [during the event] to show them that if you can’t work on something right then, you could do something else while the cake is baking,” Alexander said.

Cruz stated that this is just one of many events that Turning 22 is holding to raise money.

“I know during summer they walked at Lake Eola in an event,” Cruz said. “Mr. Wilkie is trying to get the word out about Turning 22. It is slowly increasing popularity among the community and he hopes to extend it even further.”

Alexander said she plans to participate in the future.

“This experience affected me personally by the way it was a learning experience,” Alexander said. “We go to school with these people and we don’t get to interact with them as much as we want to. I definitely will be attending other Turning 22 events to meet and learn and do more with them.”

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Turning 22 event promotes skills, understanding