Betsy Farmer has spent the last 30 years as an advocate for children and young adults with special needs, and her efforts have enhanced the lives of many.

It is hugs for everyone when Betsy Farmer walks into the Promise Treasures Thrift Shoppe in West Melbourne. Her first social enterprise, the store has 10 young adults with special needs (Promisers) on its payroll and provides vocational training for another 50. More than 60 community volunteers also help run the shop. The admiration everyone has for Farmer is clearly apparent, and her love for them is just as palpable. She has put her heart and soul into her work, and the results have been game changing for those with special needs.

Farmer first realized how limited the social options were for those with special needs when her son Luke, who has Down syndrome, was growing up. Never one to shy away from a challenge, she created the Space Coast Early Intervention Center in 1987. There, children with and without special needs play alongside each other in a program designed to foster friendships, social acceptance and preparation for school life.

As Luke grew older, Farmer realized career options for her son were also limited and narrowly defined. Determined to change this, she fought stereotypes and worked with the business community to establish the Brevard Business Leadership Network in 2005. The organization bridges the gap between local businesses and high school graduates with special needs to help them find jobs and gain workforce skills.

“I really couldn’t think past what Luke’s needs were at that time, so it wasn’t until he graduated high school and told me he wanted to move out and live on his own that I began envisioning a larger endeavor,” explained Farmer, who always instilled a can-do attitude into her son.

The endeavor she refers to is Promise in Brevard, co-founded by mother and son in 2009 as a result of them dreaming even bigger and working hand-in-hand with the community to provide a socially stimulating and safe housing environment for people with special needs.

A Life Full of Opportunities and Freedom

The goal of Promise in Brevard is to provide young adults with special needs with a sense of independence while simultaneously living, working and thriving in their community. Promise residents began moving into their apartments in October, and the goal is to have all 126 residents moved in by early 2018. The community, located on 39 acres in West Melbourne, will eventually offer an adjacent 9-acre condo subdivision for families of Promisers who want to remain close.

Amenities were developed with the help of a special group of young individuals known as The Dream Team. By sharing their thoughts and visions about everything the Promise lifestyle should offer, they came up with a variety of amenities/social enterprise concepts including a culinary arts program and catering business, hydroponic garden, farmers market, dog park/doggie day care center, creative arts center/art gallery/art patio, brick pizza oven and summer kitchen, 150-seat dining room, zero-entry saltwater pool and therapeutic spa, activity/game room, poolside snack bar and more. Other amenities that still need funding include a video production studio, disability-friendly bed and breakfast, equestrian center and therapeutic riding program, full-sized gym for Special Olympics/Paralympics events, and disability-friendly hair and nail salon.

“The majority of these amenities and social enterprises came from the hopes, dreams and visions of our Promisers,” said Farmer. “Others came from staff, parents and the community, as well as the vision I believe God gave to me. I truly believe he picked me to be Luke’s mom because of my tenacity and get-it-done attitude.”

Promise will provide on-site vocational training and employment opportunities for residents through any of the on-site social enterprises or off-site jobs, including the Promise Café & Bakery, which will open its doors in early 2018. Located next to West Melbourne Community Park and the Space Coast Field of Dreams, the café/bakery will have several Promisers on payroll. Details include a WiFi bar, 40-seat private dining room, a country-store featuring pre-packaged recipes, outdoor pavilion, and walk-up to-go window and ice cream corner. It will offer made-from-scratch menu items, organic soda and a variety of fresh, healthy and homemade signature items.

“These social enterprises are providing opportunities for our community to really get to know our Promisers and embrace them for who they are and what they bring to the table, while also valuing them as an integral part of the community,” said Farmer. “The impact is real and will serve as a model for other communities around the country and maybe even the world.”

Farmer’s advice to other social entrepreneurs with a vision:
“If I’ve learned anything from this journey, it’s that I know there are things I’m good at and things I’m not, but when you find the right people who share your vision to excel in the areas you don’t, your team will be successful.”

“The impact is real and will serve as a model for other communities around the country and maybe even the world.” – Betsy Farmer

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