TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The MacDonald Training Center in Hillsborough County is empowering adults of all abilities through an internship program at ZooTampa.
The Florida Developmental Disabilities Council, National Project SEARCH, RESPECT of Florida, and the Florida Department of Education created ‘Project SEARCH.’
There are only four programs of its kind in the state and MacDonald Training Center implements the program in Tampa.
The state-sponsored program gives opportunities to individuals with intellectual or developmental differences as interns at ZooTampa. The experience is important for the intern’s self-worth and confidence.
Inside Florida Wilds at ZooTampa, you’ll find Marielle Kaspar teaching guests about panthers.
“I’ve been in a wheelchair my entire life, but I’ve never felt like it stops me if anything it’s made me stronger,” Kaspar said.
She’s one of ten interns. The program runs nine-month-long with the goal of employment.
“The wonderful opportunity that we have here at the ZooTampa, gives us the opportunity to showcase these individuals with disabilities that they do have the capabilities of working here to come improve themselves and to show that they have that responsibility and hopefully be employed here someday, “ said Kaylin Villeme, MacDonald Training Center transition services specialist.
The interns go through three rotations at the zoo while earning college credit and working with coaches.
“Just in doing this program you get to see who can do what and they’ll surprise you,” said Anthony Hughes, job coach.
The Zoo said it’d not only is a benefit to the interns, but also the guests.
“It opens the horizons, so they all know that it’s an open world of possibilities for everyone so it’s really inspiring,’ said Cynthia Stringfield with the ZooTampa.
Kaspar is in a wheelchair because of spina bifida and knows she gives hope to the young guests overcoming challenges.
“I love being an inspiration for them letting them know that nothing will ever stop them and that they should keep going no matter what,’ she said.
MTC focuses on turning capabilities into careers. In addition to the partnership with the zoo, MTC also offers classes in environmental services, logistics, and Microsoft office courses.