March 2008

Yesterday, The Special Gathering Choir of Indian River sang at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Indialantic, Florida.  The Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community.  Our mission is to evangelize and disciple people who are developmentally disabled.  However, we realize there are many misconceptions about our population; therefore, our ministry to the Church is to help educate them to the spiritual needs of people who are mentally challenged.

After the choir sang their two selections, they received a resounding, standing ovation.  They exited the church, all smiles and returned across the river to Melbourne Special Gathering to catch their rides home.  I stayed for the entire service.  After the benediction, the pastor, Rev. Elmer Floyd, graciously asked me to stand at the door of the church and receive the members as they left the sanctuary.  That is an honor that is sometimes given to us by hosting churches.

The response of the congregations is always extremely emotional and overwhelming.  Almost everyone who spoke to me had tears brimming their eyelids.  Old hardened housewives, who long ago quit hoping for a better day, took my hand and were speeching, barely whispering, “Thank you.”  Tough, tall young men in their twenties, with their tattooed arms and fingers, gripped my arms tightly, looking directly into my eyes and mumbled in a gravelly, shame-faced voice, “They touched me.” 

Long ago we learned to understand but underestimate the emotional effect the choir have on audiences.  Because emotions are temporary vapors that are whisked away in the wind.  Yet, there are always several people that are deeply effected by the choir.  Not on the emotional level but in the inner recesses of their spirit, God does a miracle.   One family who spoke to me was touched deeply, beyond the emotions.  Their hearts were bent and perhaps healed a bit by seeing the choir’s ministry.

It was a grandfather and grandmother.  The husband spoke for both of them.  “Our granddaughter was born with Down’s Syndrome,”  he said, not resisting the tears that slowed worned their way down his wrinkled cheeks.  “What a comfort to see what God can do with a person who is mentally challenged and willing to be used by the Lord.  The choir gave us such hope that our granddaughter can we used by God.”  His tone softened,  “Our granddaughter is greatly loved.”

My thoughts raced back about 18 years.  The choir I was directing was singing for a women’s conference.  After the performance, I asked the choir to line up in the front of the auditorium and pray for the women there.  After a member of the choir had prayed for her, Betty came over and hugged me tightly.  Betty and I were friends.  I knew she had a young son who is mentally challenged.  In my arms, she wept deeply. 

Wiping the tears away, she explained, “My great sorry for my son was that I thought God could never use Tony in ministry.  Now, I know that God can use him even with his developmental disabilities.”  Again, she cried.  This time I wept with her. 

A couple of years later, Tony, her son, became a part of Special Gathering.  About a year ago, Tony joined the choir.  Yesterday, this was the song he sang,

Jesus, You alone are worthy,

And I lift my voice to you.

Jesus, You alone are worthy.

I will worship none but you.

 While emotions are an important part of our human make-up, they can’t always be trusted.  However, God’s economy is amazingly green.  He can be trusted to turn what some people consider unusable into life-changing treasures. 

Has God used someone that you thought was unusable in your life?  How have your members ministered to you?


Week of March 24, 2008

  This week was dominated with the House and Senate budget committees finalizing their separate initial budget recommendations and proposals including budget reductions for 2008 – 2009.  Historic reductions were proposed for all agencies comprising the health and human services budget including the Agency for Health Care Administration, The Agency for Persons with Disabilities, Elder Affairs, Department of Children and Families, Department of Health and Veterans Administration. 

Within the Agency for Health Care Administration, the Medicaid program was substantially reduced including critical services for families and their children.  Among the many Medicaid programs reduced or eliminated, the House proposal released today will prohibit adult dental, optometric services, podiatric services, visual services, and hospice services  from being provided to the general Medicaid population for a two year period.  Substantial reductions were also taken in hospital and nursing home services among many others. 

Both budget proposals provide for varying reductions for the Agency For Persons with Disabilities : 


1. 5% provider Rate Reduction for all providers – total savings of $43,544,549 

2.  A $150,000 cap for Tier One clients – total savings $5,634,451 

3.    An increase of $3,135,802 in additional funding to complete all      needs assessments of consumers in 2008-2009 

4.      A proposed reduction of the Gulf Coast Center by 60 beds during 2008-09 leaving 60 additional consumers to move the following year.

5.      Reduce contracts by $1,691,039 (Discussion of re-bidding PSA contracts)   


1.     3% Rate Reduction for all providers – total savings $23,397,023

2.     Additional funding to restore waiver services on a one time basis and address the APD deficit – total increase $54,515,896

3.     Move due process hearings back to DCF

4.     Freeze cost plans at actual expenditures for the previous fiscal year 

The House and Senate will continue to refine their separate budgets throughout the coming two weeks.  A conference committee will eventually be appointed to work out any differences between the two bills prior to the completion of the Appropriations process and sending a final bill to Governor Crist. 

Additional legislation will be filed this week by the Senate which will modify the consumer cost “Tiers” which were established during the 2007-2008 Legislative Session.  We do not know at this time what will be included within these changes, but will provide that information and continue to monitor the legislation when it is made available. 

In addition to budget proposals, House Bill 333, by Rep Nehr was heard and passed by the Healthcare Council.  This bill will require the APD to prepare plans for review and comment if there is an announced intent to close or reduce census by 20 percent or more at either Tacachale or Sunland Developmental Disabilities Institution.  The bill now moves to the Policy and Budget Council for further consideration. 

We continue to meet with members of the House and Senate, and meet with the other “stakeholders” to coordinate efforts.  We maintain our mission to hold APD consumers harmless from additional reductions, and specifically advocate for support coordination within all discussions. An update of all legislation currently being tracked will be forwarded for this week when it is completed. 

I want to thank Janice Phillips for her personal assistance, and the FASC membership and Board of Directors for continued support from throughout the state.  We will continue to keep you informed as developments occur.

Perhaps one of the greatest strengths that the Special Gathering model of ministry brings to the Church is uniting the community of believers to minister to a cloistered, sub-culture.  It has been said by local churches, “A wheelchair ramp wasn’t enough.  We went to the expense of making our church accessible but disabled people didn’t come.”  (Of course, a ramp is not enough but that is a discussion for another day.)

However, what is working is the model of ministry which The Special Gathering uses.  Special Gathering is a ministry within the mentally challenged community, whose mission is to evangelize and disciple the population they serve.   A prime example of the effectiveness of this model of ministry is The Special Gathering of Cocoa which meets at First Baptist Church of Merritt Island, Florida. 

Every Sunday morning approximately 80 to 100 persons who are developmentally delayed arrive at First Baptist.   The Special Gathering targets persons who are developmentally delayed in the  in the same way Youth for Christ targets teenagers, and Campus Crusades targets college students.

On any given Sunday, vans from different local churches pull up to drop off members of The Special Gathering.  There are about 30 churches in Central Brevard County that make this local ministry possible through their financial support.  They also contribute their facilities and vehicles.  The most essential element to any ministry, volunteers, who are capable ministers of the Word, also come from these contributing churches.

Vans from different denominations pull up and drop off their Special Gathering members.  This is the Church community working hand-in-hand to provide the spiritual needs of this important people’s group.  Vans come from Assemblies of God, United Methodist, Presbyterian, Christian and Lutheran churches.  Amazingly, the Assembly of God church van is driven by a Presbyterian; the Presbyterian van is driven by a Pentecostal; the Christian van, by a Roman Catholic; and the Lutheran van, by a member of Calvary Chapel.

Most of the members of The Special Gathering do not live in group homes but in the community with their families.  Each van picks up the people who live in their geographic area.  Often these families do not attend the church who owns the van.  While the members of their churches are being picked up by a van from another church.  Some members also arrive by public and group home transports.  Families provide rides.  A few Special Gathering members drive themselves to the church.

Once there, their organizational plan is similar to many evangelical congregations.  As members enter the building, they divide into different Bible study classes.  The divisions conform to the different interest and abilities of the classes’ members. 

Two of the classes focus on expository Bible study using an easy to read translation of the Bible, The New Century Version.  Other classes are topical, using Southern Baptist Access study materials.   These topical study units conform more acutely to the members’ differing interests and abilities. 

After the 30-minute Bible study classes adjourn, everyone convenes in the chapel for a 45-minute worship service.  The order of worship is intended to reinforce the lesson taught in the Bible study classes.  Understanding that their mentally challenged members learn through visual, tactical, and/or psycho-motor experiences, the services embraces a wide range of worship experiences.

The Special Gathering of Central Brevard is staffed by 18 volunteers, two of which come from First Baptist of Merritt Island.  Special Gathering also has a paid director, Rev. Richard Stimson, who serves as their pastor.  He serves in much the same way a youth pastor ministers to the teenagers and young adults in a local congregation.  His salary is composed of support from the 30 church in Central Brevard who contribute financial reinforcement.  He also serves a second chapel in the neighboring town in Titusville, Florida.  Eight Special Gathering chapels are an outgrowth of these two chapels.  The eight programs serve as many as 700 mentally challenged persons.  More than 450 persons attend these outposts of evangelism and discipleship each week.

The Special Gathering of Central Brevard started 25 years ago with four members, using a lodge in Cocoa, Florida as a meeting place.  Since then they have met in various places, including The ARC of Brevard and Cocoa United Methodist Church.  Rockledge Presbyterian Church gives them office space.  The bookkeeper from Calvary Chapel of Merritt Island is responsible for administration of the finances.

A true extension of local churches, The Special Gathering has never sent a fund-raising letter asking for money to anyone.  It is The Special Gathering’s view that God ordained the local church to minister within the local community and that they should not by-pass the authority of the local congregations to solicit money directly from church members. 

The ministry believes that people should give their tithes and offerings to the local church.  In turn, The Special Gathering is funded through the local church as The Special Gathering is placed in the budgets of these churches.  The Special Gathering serving in two states and four counties in Florida has proven that they are steward of their finances. 

Have you seen that community outreach is good for your special needs ministry?  Are there other ways to reach out to the Church helping them to see the spiritual needs of the mentally challenged community?

    During a lunch meeting with Special Gathering staff, the option of using SCAT as a way to get to our Cocoa office was discussed.  Several employees are now using SCAT regularly to get from their home to the office.  As gas prices are rising I believe many people may be seeing it as a viable option over driving their own vehicles.  I was reminded of an article I wrote for Space Coast Business Magazine and published in the December 2007 issue.  Here it is:

Hey, Buddy, Can You Get Me a Ride?

       Can public misunderstanding, impossible circumstances and lack of funding ever become a formula for victory?  These are the three haunting ogres most non-profits face on the road to achievement.  In the decades Space Coast Area Transit (SCAT) has struggled for growth, Brevard transportation has fought all three giants.  However, as David gallantly faced Goliath, Brevard transportation officials have stood their ground, using imagination and efficiency to become one of the top transit systems in the US. Whether dealing with service sector employees, the elderly, or people with disabilities, local transportation is a needed commodity for employers, the workforce, and the medical profession.

     Historically, SCAT has been closely identified with persons with disabilities.  Because of their strong presence in the disability community, many local residents made the wrong assumption that SCAT is only for people who are disabled or elderly.  While a vigorous advertising campaign has helped SCAT to overcome the phantom of inaccurate public image, economics and rising gas prices have forced people to seek alternative transportation.  SCAT has become the answer.  Therefore, employees working in the service sector are an increasing segment accessing public transportation. 

     When service workers need transportation to go to work from Cocoa to Cocoa Beach, they are able to access SCAT which has a convenient route that takes them to their place of employment.  More and more hotel personnel working at the Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront Hotel are using the transportation services provided by SCAT to get them to work on time.   Transit Director, Jim Liesenfelt reported, “This route really hums with passengers.  All during the day and evening, it is full of people riding to and from work.”

     The second obstacle facing transit planners was the geographic complexity of the county.  Often development of public transportation appeared unworkable. The topography of the land mass was not going to change.   Long and slender, Brevard County is approximately 70 miles long but merely 20 miles wide.  The Atlantic Ocean provides our eastern boundary; and there are several major bodies of water which additionally divide the county:  The Banana River, Indian River, and St. Johns River.  For the transportation planner, route development becomes a logistical nightmare.  

     Several decades ago, SCAT used imagination and innovation to partner with VPSI, Inc, bringing to Brevard the concept of leasing vans to employers and commuters, thus providing affordable transportation to and from many worksites.  Using van and car pools, Volunteers in Motion became another answer, reaching down into the southern part of the county.

     Additionally, lack of funding haunts public transportation.  Part of the charm of Brevard County involves the modest municipalities, giving us small town appeal coupled with metropolitan amenities.  Yet this means that SCAT must work with 15 city governments, plus the county board to acquire local funding.  The largest city, Palm Bay, sports 75,060 residents.  However, Melbourne Village’s population is 719.  Eleven cities have less than 20,000 inhabitants.  Most of these townships do not have the budget to provide transportation for their citizenry, thus impacting the necessary funding for SCAT. 

     Renaissance Planning Group reported in October 2007 that SCAT receives only $1.95 of local funding per capita.  Other transit systems in comparable counties receive significantly more from the local matches.  Volusia boasts $15.79 per capita in funding.  Lakeland Area Mass Transit receives $26.59 per capita. 

     While lack of funding, the layout of the county and public perception has meant slower growth, SCAT has used this measured escalation to their advantage.  SCAT has concentrated on keeping their service personal and efficient.   “Our drivers know their ridership.  They are able to meet the unique needs of the people using the system,” Liesenfelt told the Local Coordination Board in October 2007.  

     Proving his point, in 2003 SCAT was awarded the prestigious Outstanding Public Transportation System Award by the American Public Transportation Association.  The criteria used to select the winner includes attributes such as efficiency and effectiveness; achievement in safety and operation; and customer service.

     SCAT has provided more than one million rides to people living in Brevard County in 2007.  But increasingly the question is “Hey, Buddy, can you get me a ride?”  Demand is blossoming.  More and more people require public transportation to get to work in Port Canaveral, Brevard Community College Campuses, Florida Institute of Technology and medical appointments.   Increasingly, tourists ride buses.  Teenagers are discovering the route that travels from Palm Bay to the beaches.  SCAT stands in the gap looking for innovative and  progressive ways to overcome obstacles, providing Brevard’s mobility necessities for employers and employees.

Here is an e-mail I received yesterday regarding Florida’s Legislative Activities regarding MedWaiver and APD budgets. 

 Subject: Legislative Update from Janice and Beth

Update from Janice Phillips and Beth Labasky. We just received word from the capital that there is a proposal to reduce all waiver provider rates by 5% for 0809. This includes Waiver Support Coordinators. Janice and Beth are working non-stop, meeting with members of both houses and attending hearings to monitor the many proposals for APD’s budget problems and the state’s financial crisis. There is still a great deal of negotiating taking place between the different branches of government. We wanted to get this word out to members as quickly as we became aware of this proposal that would significantly impact SC’s and providers statewide. 

Debbie Kahn

Advocates for Opportunity, Inc

The hardest part about directing a choir of mentally challenged people is teaching them to look at me.  In the twenty years that I have been a choir director for persons who are developmentally delayed for The Special Gathering, this has been a constant and consistent problem. 

In the 1960’s when the Jesus Movement was sweeping across America, my husband and I were swept into the miraculous wonder of the Holy Spirit’s healing touch.  Though I was very young, almost daily, I had the privilege of praying for people.  Occasionally, these were African-American women who were visiting our home.  With this wonderful population of women, I was always faced with the same problem.  They refused to look at me. 

No matter how bold they had been in conversation, when it came time to pray, they all took the same posture.  They would sit with their heads pressed to their chests and their hands clasped in their laps, too timid to move or speak. 

I felt that the Lord told me that part of what was needed for them was to insist that they raise their heads and look at me, eye to eye.  At times, I had to physically force their heads upward.  Amazingly, once these women began to look up, there was a visual transformation that happened every time.  They seemed to come alive with joy and acceptance.   Laughing and crying at the same time, they would say, usually in a reverent whisper, “I’m free!”

I wasn’t totally surprised to also have this problem in the mentally challenged community.  This cloistered, sub-culture is made up of individuals who are told all their lives,  “Sit down.  Be quiet and don’t draw attention to yourself.” 

Even if those words are not spoken, they are told that a million times in their lives in a multitude of different ways.  I remember a funeral that I attended.  The father of one our members had died.  At that time, Nora was in her mid-thirties.  She is a high functioning, well-spoken, sophisticated woman.  Several times before and after the funeral service, her mother, brother and two sisters gathered in a circle.  Comforting each other,  they joined in a large group hug.  Nora was never a part of the hug.  She stood on the outside grasping her arms close to her chest, weeping alone. 

I don’t care how tonally correct the members of the choir sing but I do care whether they look at me or not.  For some of the members, this is especially difficult. For it is not only part of our culture to not look people in the eye; but it is also part of their disability.  Yet, I have never had one person who has not learned to overcome his training and disability.  They have all learned to look at me. 

Each new member thinks I’m incredible horrible when I harp on them, not allowing them to look away for a second.  Usually by the time they have trained themselves to look at me, another person will join the choir. Then she sees that I have to go through the same thing with the new, fledgling performer.  Almost, without exception, she will say in a patient, mentoring voice, “You can do it.  I had to learn and you can too.”

There is an element of self-worth that is essential in maturing in the Christian faith.  Through Christ’s sacrifice, God makes us his children, not his slaves or lackeys.  Perhaps the greatest joy I have when the choir performs is not the musical quality or the correct enunciation of all the words but 12 sets of eyes that meet mine and look at me, eye to eye.  Equal partners in ministry, holding our heads and hearts high. 

It makes me want to have a large, group hug with no one left outside grasping their arms.

What have you found to be the hardest thing for your members to do?  Have you found that making eye contact is important to self-worth?  What are some other signs of a good self-worth?

We received an e-mail yesterday late in the evening regarding changes The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) is proposing in regard to State Medicaid agencies.  While I am a neophyte, CMS appears to be the federal agency that manages funding allocations which are appropriated to the states.  CMS has proposed what would be equivalent to private insurance plans. 

Perhaps most important, CMS proposes 11 exemptions to needy populations that would probably cover most of our rider clientele.  Mike LaVoie, who has worked in the system for more than 30 years, writes, “In case, you missed this buried in some of the documents from Agency for Persons with Disabilities, pay particular attention to CMS recommendations cited in the email- from Department of Transportation to eliminate the requirement for Medicaid to provide transportation to and from Medicaid Services.  Needless to say, this could be devastating to the provision to transport to access Adult Day Training and Supported Employment services. “

LaVoie continues, “CMS suggestions that this could take years may be misleading as we all know, CMS has approved equally impactful decisions faster than that lately”

Lsia Bacot suggests that interested parties should comment by clicking onto this link:  http://www/

The comments should were due Monday, March 26, 2008 which is the day before this posting.  Everyone apologized about the short turnaround.  However, this was an important decision that was made public much too late for most people to react.

Here are a couple of the emails that were sent yesterday:

From: Mike

Sent: Monday, March 24, 2008 2:23 PM

Subject:FW: CMS Proposed Rule- Important

 Hey folks,In case you missed this buried in some of the documents from APD.Pay particular attention to CMS recommendations cited in the email from Dept of Transportation,to eliminate the requirement for Medicaid to provide transportation to and from Medicaid Services.Needless to say, this could be devastating to the provision of transport to access ADT and Supported Employment services.Suggestions that this could take years may be misleading as we all know CMS has appoved equally impactful decisions faster than that lately.Mike 

From: Johnson, Karen E.

Sent: Monday, March 24, 2008 9:06 AM

Subject:FW: CMS Proposed Rule- Important


—–Original Message—–
From: Mack, Heather@Career & Technical Education

Sent: Monday, March 24, 2008 8:58 AM

To: Johnson, Karen E.

Subject:FW: CMS Proposed Rule- Important

  Although many of us get these from Paula, I think there are many on our ICB list that do not.  Please forgive if this is redundant for you. HeatherHeather Mack, Special Populations
Career and Technical Education
2700 Judge Fran Jamieson Way
Viera, Florida  32940
321-633-1000 ext. 379

From:Davis, Paula []
Sent: Monday, March 24, 2008 7:46 AM;;;;;;;;;;;;;;; Davis, Lacie;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;; Lewis, Eva@Exceptional Education;;; Lowe, Kathy; Mack, Heather@Career & Technical Education;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;; Tolson, Sharon@Viera;;;;;;; Wickham, Cindy@Viera;; Davis, Paula; Becker, Brenda J; Becker, Jason L; Breslin, Brian R; Bryant, Stephanie L; Dettra, Samuel R; Ford, Suzanne; Golden, Ian J; Hansen, Christine; Harris, Tammy J; Herriott, Carl J; Holt, Leigh R; Howell, Cheryl; Ingalls, Joyce L; Joiner, Chenita M; Langan, Judy; Parks-Martin, Donna; Mcdonald, Michael E; Mcguffie, Glenn A;; Parks-Martin, Donna; Reich, Rosa M; Singleton, Lesley D; Spiller, Laverta; Urban, Sandra; Williams, Gay N; Wright, Pam

Subject:FW: CMS Proposed Rule- Important

 FYI – regards M-NET 

PaulaPaula C. DavisHuman Services Planner IIBrevard County Housing and Human Services2725 Judge Fran Jamieson Way, Suite B103Viera, Florida  32940 
Disclaimer: “This e-mail is for information purposes only and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Brevard County Board of County Commissioners nor Brevard County Housing and the Human Services Department.”

From:Bacot, Lisa M. []
Sent: Thursday, March 20, 2008 4:25 PM
To:CO-CTD Staff
Subject:CMS Proposed Rule- Important
Importance: High

 TO:  Entire TD Distribution List 

The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) has issued a proposed rule relating to allowing State Medicaid agencies the opportunity to create benchmark packages that would be equivalent to private insurance plans.  We appreciate that CMS is looking outside the box, however, one of the proposed plans in this rule is to allow Medicaid agencies the opportunity to “relieve States of the responsibility to assure transportation to and from providers.”  Before a state could act on this (if it becomes final rule), the state plan would have to be adjusted, so it would be a year or two down the road.  In addition,  CMS proposes 11 exemptions to needy populations that would probably cover most of our rider clientele.   Regardless, it does have the potential of making very significant changes to Medicaid Transportation services to certain clients. If you do want to comment, please click on this link:  You can then enter your contact information in and either type in your comments or revise the attached sample letter and upload it into the system.  Comments are due Monday, March 24, 2008.  I apologize for the short turnaround.  I do not have a copy of CTAA’s response, but when I get it, I will send it to you. Thank you.  Lisa M. BacotExecutive DirectorFlorida Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged605Suwannee Street, MS 49Tallahassee, FL 32399-0450lisa.bacot@dot.state.fl.usDirect Line (850) 410-5711Toll Free (800) 983-2435TTY (850) 410-5708Florida Relay System Dial 711 (Florida Only)FAX (850)  

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