AVON PARK – A group of young and enthusiastic workers descended upon the campus of Ridge Area Arc recently for 2 days of work. The group, led by Eddie Cuencas, the Highlands County Program Specialist for South Florida State College’s Panther Youth Partners program, was divided into teams and given work assignments.

One team was assigned painting a classroom, another team washed and waxed Arc vans while another group tackled the carpet and windows at the Eckstadt House and the administration building.

Ridge Area Arc CEO, Kathleen Border thanked the group before they began their first work day.  Border emphasized the need for a volunteer workforce at Arc to complete tasks that would otherwise be overlooked. As Arc serves individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in a day to wash and wax vans, paint and refresh a classroom that will house a new program, clean windows, clear vines and overgrown plants and pressure wash sheds. The workforce of South Florida State College’s Panther Youth Partners provided Arc an incredible opportunity with their willingness to tackle these jobs.

South Florida State College’s Panther Youth Partners is a federally funded workforce program that provides participants with services that will develop and strengthen employability skills, talents, and interests. It is the program’s intent for participants to gain valuable information that they can draw upon, when seeking employment or when deciding upon a career change, throughout their life. 

The program offers financial assistance, mentoring, advising/counseling, career development assistance, job shadowing and employability skills workshops. The program is open to individuals who meet specific requirements: Youth between ages 16 – 24 living in DeSoto, Hardee, Okeechobee, or Highlands County;  High School Drop Out seeking to earn a GED; Students completing GED and interested in taking classes to earn an occupational certification leading to a high demand, high wage career; Income eligibility requirements.

For more information about  Panther Youth Partners, contact  Program Coordinator, Kamille Manalo at 863-784-7054 or manalok@southflorida.edu.

For more information on Ridge Area Arc, call 863-452-1295 or visit www.ridgeareaarc.org


Ridge Area Arc is a private, not for profit 501(c)3 organization, which was founded in 1957 by Franklyn and Mary Ellen Ward. Ridge Area Arc provides an array of services and support for nearly 200 families and individuals and is devoted to promoting and improving supports and services for all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Our vision is that every individual and family affected by intellectual disability in our service area has access to the information, advocacy, and skills they need to participate as active citizens of our democracy and active members of their community. 


Members of South Florida State College’s Panther Youth Partners program gather before they begin their first workday at Ridge Area Arc in Avon Park.   

Students painted walls and shelves in one of Arc’s classrooms. This classroom will house the newest program at Arc,  The Rythmic Arts Program (T.R.A.P.).

Students washed and waxed Arc vehicles, a task that often gets overlooked because of time constraints and limited resources.