Charity Spotlight: HabCenter

center of attention

A treasure in Boca Raton, the Rehabilitation Center gives a forgotten population a place to learn and grow

Every two weeks, staff and clients get their checks, a reward for their hard work. Despite their physical, mental and developmental disabilities, they’ve found a place where they’re valued for their contributions—where people take them seriously. “They’re all excited every other Friday,” says Bob DiRocco, the executive director at the HabCenter. As he walks the hallways, he receives hellos, handshakes and life updates. One man proudly announces that he has a girlfriend.

Since 1978, the HabCenter has served what DiRocco calls a “forgotten population.” When they were children, living with drug addicts, abused or thrown into institutions, they had the public’s sympathy. Now as adults, not so much.

The organization’s 150 clients look forward to being dropped off at the center, where they can see their friends, attend group sessions, learn life skills or put in a day’s work.

For those working at the center, two opportunities are available. The first is working in the Manufacturing Services program, where they learn to build products for a litany of clients, from heart rate monitors for OrangeTheory to light beacons for airplanes. For those who prefer to be outdoors, there’s the Plant Nursery, spread over the campus’s 12 acres. Municipalities and private clubs purchase the plants, and they’re also used in the center as a means of teaching proper nutrition. Countless clients go on to work at grocery stores, restaurants, hardware stores and other businesses with the skills they’ve garnered here.

For those not ready for the workplace, there’s P.E.A.R. (Program in Education, Arts and Recreation), which provides a wide range of life skills training. There’s men’s groups, women’s groups, couple’s counseling, internships, cooking programs and more.

“It’s all about inclusion and getting people out,” DiRocco says. “We have some people who were institutionalized years ago, and it’s hard to get away from that feeling that they’re second-class citizens. We are all one and the same here.

“I really take pride in giving these people a fun place where they can learn, they can grow, they can develop job skills and life skills so they can survive and be happy in the community.”

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This story is from the January 2020 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.