Billy, one of MARC’s regular clients, grins as he proudly displays his freshly-baked muffins. “I like baking. I like new recipes,” he says.
MARC, short for the Monroe Association of “ReMARCable” Citizens, has served the Monroe County adult population with developmental disabilities since 1966. The non-profit’s Upper Keys location is a vocational center and a thrift store. Tucked to the side of Coral Isles Church in Tavernier, the store is marked out front by a big, red chair with “MARC” written in rainbow letters. Inside, it bustles with activity, joy and smiles.
Each day, staff, trainers and volunteers pick up their clients and bring them to the center for adult day training and life skills work. These workshops ensure each client receives individualized support and training and include topics like money management, food service, taking care of a home, and making good social choices. The goal is to enhance each client’s individual abilities to understand daily community routines and learn social, self-care, and vocational skills.
In Tavernier, the storefront raises money for MARC and doubles as a vocational training ground. Clients train to hang clothes, sort donations, work the floor and greet customers.
“Our clients enjoy interactions with customers,” said Francine Lemay, the supported employment coordinator. “They love greeting people as they come in and building friendships.”
The store-center is all about inclusivity within the community and encourages MARC’s clients to form and enjoy relationships with non-disabled peers.
“I’m really glad we have this service for this population,” Lemay said. “Because they’re important and they deserve to be seen.” As she says so, Cinnamon, another client, flashes by, holding a gold dress off the racks. She’s preparing for the big “Spring Into Art Antique Car Show” happening Thursday, April 11 at Coconut Cove Resort. It’s a huge fundraiser for MARC, and includes local art, antique cars, a fashion show by MARC’s clients, and much more. As Cinnamon shows off her outfit of choice, she describes how she hopes the dress will look good for the event.
Cinnamon also runs her own business — putting cards she’s painted into local stores for sale. Her MARC adult day training has helped her develop and execute her business plan. Lemay describes how she helps other clients find what they want to do: “Think about what you want to do and we’ll work on it. Maybe something with animals? Let’s try the Humane Society.”
Beyond serving this population, MARC also serves the Keys community at large. Donations that aren’t sellable are donated to the humane society, assisted living homes, and women’s and children’s shelters. Dawn, a local customer who’s been shopping at MARC for over 10 years, agrees.
“The people here — they have a huge heart,” she said. “They do great things for the community. They’ve helped my family and I through really hard stuff. I can’t ask for anything else from a shop. They’re wonderful!”
Lemay smiles as Billy helps Dawn with one of her selections. “My favorite part of all this is the clients. They bring me lots of joy. I really like being around them and seeing the world through their eyes, because everything’s great.”
The Spring Into Art & Antique Car Show is happening April 11, from 5 to 8p.m., at Coconut Cove Resort.