Ellis Family Story Shows Partnership Working

Ellis Family Story Shows Partnership Working
Posted on 10/10/2019

When David and Mary Kaye Ellis moved to Palm Coast from Pennsylvania in 2012, they needed to enroll their son, David, Jr. in school. It’s always a big decision, but David is autistic so the Ellis’ were filled with some trepidation. 

The school year was already three weeks in session, so David, Sr. and Mary Kaye admit they took the staff at Flagler Palm Coast High School by surprise when they showed up to register the younger David. “I was in tears,” Mary Kaye admitted. “I was thinking ‘what have we done?’”Ellis family photo

The district from which the Ellis’ came in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania had a vibrant inclusive program and worked with students like David on life skills. “FPC was strictly academic. Once I was able to wrap my brain around it, I was good with it,” recalls Mary Kaye.

David quickly made friends and things were good. “We’d go to the beach and kids would wave at David and talk with him,” David, Sr. said. “We’d ask, ‘Who is that?’ and David would just say ‘Some kids from school.’ We knew the social part wouldn’t be a problem.”

But what about after high school?

“One day, at the end of his junior year in comes Dr. Halliday, like a whirlwind,” Mary Kaye remembers. It was a meeting that left an impression on the Ellis’.

Dr. Halliday was laying out a plan for David which included the TRAIL Transition Program, a program within Flagler Schools that gives young people between the ages of 18-22 who have disabilities additional workforce skills and training. It’s all based on their unique needs and learning abilities.

Mary Kaye laughs now but says at the end of that first meeting, “We looked at each other and said ‘What just happened?’” The bottom line was: the Ellis’ were in.

David Ellis, Jr at workDavid was learning skills to make him employable. He and the other participants in the TRAIL Program were always out in the community, working and putting a face to a valuable program within Flagler Schools.

Those skills were more than bagging groceries or working their way around the local Target store. Say’s David, Sr. “Once he got into the TRAIL Transition Program, he started learning math that we had no idea he could do. The calculations he could do.” Adds Mary Kaye, “There was a list of items he was given, like shoes. A person buys this many of the shoes at one price and they’re all 15% off. The question wasn’t how much the items cost. It was how much did he save. David was able to pull out his phone calculator and worked it out faster than I ever could!”

David was chosen to take part in a new program called “Project SEARCH.” This is a national program, which can be found locally at Princeton Village of Palm Coast, a retirement facility. David and other participants worked in a variety of areas in the facility. His experience there helped him land an employment opportunity within Flagler Schools. We caught up with him as he worked alongside the custodial team at Matanzas High School. 

The younger David describes his transition from high school to the TRAIL Transition Program, to Project SEARCH and beyond by simply saying “It has changed my life.”

Mary Kaye and David both agree. “For me, it was never about him making money,” says Mary Kaye. “He is motivated now. He has this stuff down. He knows when his work clothes aren’t clean, that he needs to get some more work clothes in the washer.”David Ellis Jr working

The Ellis’ tell us including children like their son at a younger age can do wonders, both for the child and their classmates. Their experiences of that in Pennsylvania created a son who was very independent, despite his autism diagnosis. It also creates dialogue. Says David Ellis, Sr. “We’ve had parents use the ‘R’ word and then try to play it off as ‘it just means they’re just being stupid.’ No, it doesn’t. That word has a lot of context to it.”

David Ellis, Sr. also says it’s important for all of us to understand what it means to be autistic. “You need to understand that kid in the store that might be having a meltdown, or might be doing something strange with their arms is just another kid. And that’s what they get to see with the inclusion. It gets to become a community.”

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