News & Information > News Releases

December 29, 2023

Melanie Mowry Etters
Communication Director

APD Celebrates a Year of Empowering Individuals with Unique Abilities through the Power of Partnership

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.— Today, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) shared accomplishments from 2023 achieved through the power of partnership to support individuals with unique abilities and their families in living, learning, and working within their communities by creating multiple pathways to possibilities.

“As a direct result of the leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis, First Lady Casey DeSantis, and Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez as well as incredible support from our partners in the Legislature, this year provided many exciting opportunities to ensure all Floridians achieve their God-given potential to thrive,” said Agency for Persons with Disabilities Director Taylor Hatch. “Through the power of partnership, we look forward to building upon our strong foundations, to serve as a sought-after resource for individuals with unique abilities.” 

Highlights from 2023 include:

Hope Florida – A Pathway to Possibilities
Spearheaded by First Lady Casey DeSantis, APD officially launched Hope Florida A Pathway to Possibilities which utilizes Hope Navigators to guide Floridians on an individualized path to prosperity, self-sufficiency, and hope by focusing on community collaboration between the private sector, the faith-based community, nonprofits, and government entities to break down traditional silos, to maximize community resources and uncover opportunities.

Hope Florida empowers individuals with unique abilities through essential resources that promote empowerment and independence, by helping them to unlock their God-given potential to thrive.

  • More than 1,800 families have been contacted by APD Hope Navigators.

Top goals identified include skills for gaining greater skills for independence, employment, and maximizing community integration.
“The impact this program and the Hope Navigator’s efforts have had on my daughter Krystal’s life and our family is truly immeasurable,” said Claribel Aviles, “The connection to volunteering at the public library has played a significant role in her personal growth and development. Krystal is now more engaged, communicative, self-confident, and eager to interact with others which has had a profound impact on her overall well-being.”

“It’s amazing to participate in discussions with families and community partners; before the conversations even start, I have a feeling of confidence because I know the right folks have come together and now, anything is possible,” said APD Hope Florida Program Administrator, Zandra Odum. “This is the definition of partnership, coming together to ensure a family has the necessary resources to thrive in their local community.”

Maximizing the Personal Needs Allowance and Supporting Quality Living Settings
APD, in partnership with the Florida Legislature, worked to keep critical funding in the pockets of Floridians with unique abilities by establishing and making permanent an increase of the Personal Needs Allowance which is essential funding that promotes community living and involvement.

As of August 17, 2023, eligible individuals residing in APD-licensed group homes and receiving a social security benefit are provided a minimum monthly benefit of $164.52 a month, compared to the federal rate of $30. This required no new action on the part of eligible clients to receive this increase.

“This is a major victory for Floridians with unique abilities,” said Senator Jason Brodeur. “This measure empowers eligible individuals with unique abilities to keep more of the money they deserve in their pockets.”

"Extra money feels very good and I feel blessed,” said George W., an APD Client. “With this help, I am going to get new boots and a cowboy hat to go with it.”

Additionally, to impact health relating to the environments where people live, work, and play that influence health throughout the lifespan, APD, under the leadership of Governor DeSantis and in partnership with industry stakeholders, established a new reimbursement model for room and board that actively accounts for inflation for individuals with developmental disabilities living in APD-licensed group homes further maintaining accessibility of quality living settings.

Increasing Employment Opportunities for all Floridians
Under the leadership of First Lady Casey DeSantis, APD had the honor to participate in highlighting Floridians with unique abilities and the opportunities that are available to employ the people we serve through Hope Florida employers. The highlight included the launch of Hope Florida’s first educational partner, New College of Florida, which offers jobs and scholarships to participants of Hope Florida, including those with unique abilities. With the bolstered support and call to action from incredible partners like the Department of Education and Florida State University System, we are thrilled to continue to expand these important and valuable offerings.

Additional efforts by APD and the power of partnership to increase employment opportunities include providing employment services such as job skills training, internships, employment coaching, and many other supports were provided to over 6,300 clients to obtain and maintain employment.

“We opened Perfect Blend to provide job training and a starting place for adults and teens with exceptional abilities,” said Kalli Clement Owner of Perfect Blend Coffee Company. It has been amazing to see these employees thrive, but it has been even more rewarding for the community to see how capable these individuals are.”

By leveraging resources, experts, and like-minded partners like Florida Department of Commerce, CareerSource Florida, Florida Department of Education and many incredible local partners and businesses, we will continue to build upon our unified commitment to increase employment opportunities for all Floridians.

Creating a Continuum of Information and Guidance
Through the direction and partnership of the Florida Legislature, APD convened the first part of a two-part series of workgroup sessions to maximize the opportunity with experts in health and human services, education, and workforce industries at the state and local level to create a continuum of guidance and information for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families including information across the lifespan of such individuals related to education, workforce, daily living skills, and supportive services for greater independence. 

The series included presentations, panels, and open discussions that included approximately twenty different entities with individuals representing at the state and local level. Additionally, partners utilized written information provided from surveys that were conducted to capture current service offerings and opportunities for enhancements. The sessions included valuable legislative input and feedback from workgroup participants and contributing partners that shared their lived experience.

The series resulted in identifying of several opportunities and key moments of impact utilizing information and programming shared from entities across the state who have instituted promising practices and are leading the way in innovation by leveraging local partnerships to maximize outcomes for individuals with developmental disabilities.

As the series continues and develops recommendations, the Agency will continue to get feedback from valued stakeholders and expand partnerships with providers, nonprofits, faith-based entities, and private sector employers, as well as additional direct input from individuals and families with lived experience.

Enhancing Transparency within the System of Care
Through the partnership of industry providers and the Florida Legislature, APD will enhance transparency and accountability for those providing services to the people we serve. With the licensure of Adult Day Training providers which serve over 13,000 APD clients, APD will create a greater line of sight to further drive quality service delivery. This will be accomplished by sharing best practices, promoting support and mentorship opportunities amongst providers, and holding accountable those that require improvement, ensuring quality industry standards are upheld across the state.

Proactively Serving Individuals with Dual Diagnosis
As a result of developing solutions alongside experts across multiple systems of care, APD secured funding to support critical subject matter expertise within existing Mobile Response teaming models in partnership with the Department of Children and Families. This funding provides greater access for Floridians to critical on-demand mental health crisis support to reduce trauma and bolster services. Specifically, the funding supports the addition of behavior analysts to existing Mobile Crisis Teams in Broward and Orange counties to reduce the number of involuntary crisis stabilization placements for individuals with developmental disabilities and co-occurrence of mental health needs. The funding also supports specialized training geared towards front-line team members, including Direct Support Professionals, to proactively and effectively support Floridians in need.

“This pilot represents a significant step forward in our mission to provide comprehensive and effective mental health support for Florida’s children and families,” said Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Shevaun Harris. “We believe that by addressing co-occurring behavioral and mental health disorders proactively, and working collaboratively with our partners at APD, we support a stronger, more resilient community.”

Responding to Disaster Recovery Needs
At the direction of Governor DeSantis, working alongside sister agencies, not for profits, churches, and private sector businesses, APD actively served those impacted by Hurricane Idalia, identifying and working to meet the needs of Floridians with unique abilities.

Activities included:

  • Connecting with all clients, providers, and partners to ensure safety and well-being, and that needs are met. Efforts resulted in the delivery of care packages, vital items to aid in cleanup efforts, as well as therapeutic tools and resources such as noise-canceling headphones and sensory items.
  • Serving as an on-site resource for individuals with unique abilities, their families, and additional Floridians through community settings such as Family Resource Centers, Disaster Recovery Centers, neighborhood canvassing, and visits to providers to provide basic needs, therapeutic, behavioral, and medical resources.
  • Partnering with the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Unit Control Unit to provide on-site visits to APD-licensed Group Homes in the affected areas.

  • Joining Lieutenant Governor Nuñez and sister agency leadership to tour and support disaster recovery efforts such as mobile medical units, local schools and school district leadership, as well as special needs shelters.

“It was such a distinct honor to work in partnership with APD to support families of children with unique abilities to ensure their safety and well-being during a time of crisis in our state,” said Anjali Van Drie, Vice President of Family Initiative. “We are so grateful for the leadership and support of APD to facilitate collaboration to take care of the most vulnerable across our state. It meant the world to us to be able to provide sensory kits and weighted stuffed animals to families hit by Hurricane Idalia. We know how meaningful and impactful the careful consideration and thoughtfulness of the Agency means to families who have children with unique needs.”

As 2023 comes to a close, the Agency remains committed and stands ready to proactively serve individuals with unique abilities and their families. APD is looking forward to a bold and bright 2024 to deliver for the people we serve.

For additional information, please visit or call toll-free 1-866-APD-CARES (1-866-273-2273).