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LARC Breaks Ground on Cutting-Edge Culinary Training Kitchen

Austin Clinton, David Mulicka,Wendy Borgman, Stephen Bowen, Angela Katz, Brian Bradley, Mike Gavala, Pam Jenkins

Initiative will fill workforce gaps in the hospitality industry

FORT MYERS, FL (February 13, 2024) A beacon of hope shines brightly in Fort Myers as the Lee Association of Remarkable Citizens (LARC) celebrates the groundbreaking of its state-of-the-art Commercial Culinary Training Kitchen.  This groundbreaking initiative promises to bridge critical workforce gaps within the thriving hospitality industry.

With a legacy of excellence dating back to 1954, LARC Inc. stands as a pillar of support and empowerment for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and their families.  The unveiling of this groundbreaking project marks a pivotal moment in LARC’s journey towards fostering inclusive employment opportunities and unleashing the potential of every individual it serves.

“In 2019, we recognized a pressing need to address the substantial workforce shortages plaguing Southwest Florida’s hospitality sector, which stands as the region’s second-largest industry,” said Angela Katz, Executive Director of LARC.  “As champions of inclusivity and empowerment, we asked ourselves, ‘How can we leverage our expertise to not only fill these gaps but also empower individuals with disabilities to thrive?'”

Despite facing fundraising setbacks amidst the challenges of the global pandemic, LARC’s unwavering dedication received a significant boost with a $650,000 State Appropriation.  Spearheaded by State Representative Jenna Persons-Mulicka, this funding is part of Governor Ron DeSantis’ Freedom First Budget.  Under the expert craftsmanship of Stephen R. Bowen Construction, this Culinary Training Kitchen will provide a state-of-the-art space where staff will deliver training designed for the hospitality industry.

This culinary hub will be a focus in LARC’s innovative LAB (Learn, Achieve, Become) Program, launched in 2019.  Through LAB, individuals with IDD are nurtured in a dynamic learning environment tailored to their unique abilities, encompassing vocational training, independent living skills, and holistic personal development.  Five Labs include Lab for Living, Wellness Lab, Smart Living Technology Lab, Vocational Exploration Lab, and Collaboration Lab. 

Within LAB lies the Vocational Exploration Lab, where individuals are equipped with the skills and confidence to thrive in the workforce.  Statistics underscore the immense potential of individuals with disabilities, with studies revealing superior attendance rates and significantly lower turnover rates compared to their non-disabled counterparts.  By embracing inclusivity, businesses can unlock many benefits, including heightened employee retention and company loyalty. 

“With the launch of our Commercial Culinary Training Kitchen, individuals with disabilities are poised to showcase their talents, dedication, and skills in the food service industry,” said Katz.  

“This initiative is a testament to the power of collaboration and compassion, offering a win-win solution for businesses and individuals alike.”

Since its inception, LARC has been a cornerstone of support for individuals with IDD and their families, offering a comprehensive suite of services ranging from life skills and vocational training to community residential support.

As LARC embarks on this transformative journey, it invites the community to champion inclusivity, empowerment, and boundless possibilities for all.

For more information about LARC and its transformative initiatives, please visit www.larcleecounty.org or contact Angela Katz at 239-334-6285 x 210 or angelakatz@larcleecounty.org.

About LARC:

Founded in 1954, the Lee Association of Remarkable Citizens (LARC) is dedicated to empowering individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) to achieve their fullest potential.  Through innovative programs, comprehensive support services, and unwavering advocacy, LARC continues to be a beacon of hope and opportunity for individuals and families across Southwest Florida.  LARC serves more than 300 individuals annually, and participants range from 14 to 80.  LARC’s main campus is located at 2570 Hanson Street, Fort Myers.  LARC also operates two Residential Group Homes in Cape Coral and Fort Myers.

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