Who are the Social Butterflies?

Posted 1/13/22

Social Butterflies are always ready to welcome new members to the group.

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Who are the Social Butterflies?


OKEECHOBEE — Social Butterflies are always ready to welcome new members to the group.

The Okeechobee Social Butterflies group was started about seven years ago after the Okeechobee Rehab (ARC) closed down under a cloud of controversy.

The Rehab originally started in the 1960s as the Sunshine School and was created to meet the needs of children with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Later, it became the ARC (Association for Retarded Citizens), but after failing to pay dues to remain affiliated with the ARC, the organization changed its name to the Okeechobee Rehab Facility.

In 2013, the non-profit lost its funding as the result of an insurance fraud investigation. When the funding was lost, the facility lost its clientele, some of whom had been clients since the 1960s.

Although there were other organizations in Okeechobee and surrounding areas when the Rehab closed, they did not provide the same services.

Many of the clients tried Wings of Independence said Janet Berry, the mother of several adult children with special needs, but the founder passed away, and there was no one to take on the license. The only option left until they found a replacement was PIN (Personal Independence Network) in Fort Pierce, but APD’s CDC+ (Agency for Persons with Disabilities’ Consumer Directed Care Plus) stepped in and made it possible for caregivers to be hired by the families and paid by the state.

Many of the families took their children (most of them adults at that time) out of Wings of Independence and PIN and enrolled them with the state. Working together, the parents and caregivers created a social group called the Social Butterflies so the “children” would still have opportunities to spend time with friends. Some of these people had been friends and seen each other daily for 40 years and would have been devastated to lose contact.

For a long time, they got together on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays each week. On Mondays, they played bingo. Wednesdays were movie days at the Brahman Theater, where they were welcomed at a special time reserved for them. They were charged a small fee to get in, and the fee included popcorn and a drink. On Fridays, the group met at the Stardust Lanes for a game or two of bowling. This was always a highlight, because the majority of the Social Butterflies are also Special Olympic athletes, and bowling is one of the most popular sports. The “kids” as most of the families call their special needs family members, all enjoy bingo as well. Gail Saum, who is a caregiver to a woman named Samantha, heads up the bingo events, calling out letters and numbers with the skill and flair of a professional.

Betty Jo Campbell and Tracy Nipper are long time caregivers and are a big part of planning and organizing field trips, parties and get togethers for the group.

The group normally has a Christmas party, and until covid struck, it was a huge event held out at the Shrine Club. When the pandemic hit, they had to scale the event down and did drive by gift drop offs the first year. In 2021, they had a luncheon party and invited those who had been participating in the last year or so.

Field trips to Arnold’s Wildlife Rehab and to corn mazes and pumpkin patches are other favorites, although most of the families are not able to pay large fees. Some families have multiple children with special needs, and the costs can add up. They search for free or low cost activities, but Nipper said there don’t seem to be a lot of those in Okeechobee anymore. They did enjoy going out to Douglas Pond during the summer months and greatly appreciated the Douglas family allowing them to visit. Before Okee-Tantie closed to the public, they took the group fishing, and everyone loved it, but now, they have nowhere to fish. If anyone has a pond they can use, please let them know.

Always looking for fun things to keep the kids busy and engaged, the group does puzzles, crafts, gardening, anything that might interest their clients/family members.

“We started out with just the Christmas parties,” said Berry. “Then Gail started doing bingo.” When covid came, they stopped meeting for a while. Many of the kids are older or have some type of health problem making them extra vulnerable to the virus. When the vaccine became available, they felt it was safe to resume some activities but were disappointed there was no theater or bowling alley to go to anymore. Instead, they watched movies at the American Legion, where they played bingo. Now, with so few attending, they meet at Berrys' home for a movie and lunch.

Anyone with a special needs family member is welcome and encouraged to join the group and can find them on Facebook said Berry.

Often, the group holds yard sales to help finance some of their activities. The next one is scheduled for Feb. 12 at the Okeechobee Christian Church on Charles Harvey Highway, behind Home Depot. If you would like to donate items for the yard sale, you can contact the members on the Social Butterflies Facebook page.