WOW Center gives life skills training for those with disabilities


Every morning, Deardree Angulo drives from Homestead to Kendall to take her daughter, Jennifer Huertas, to The WOW Center, which offers services to people with disabilities.

Angulo waited eight months for the nonprofit organization to accept Jennifer, who now takes part in various life-expanding programs at the center.

“It’s been an extraordinary experience for her since the beginning,” Angulo said. “The programs are excellent. They take the students out to be part of the community.”

Jennifer, 30, got her current job at Sunset Feed & Supply after receiving training at the center. She works six hours a week placing merchandise on the shelves and marking their prices, her mother said.

“For a long time I was told she could not help herself, but since participating in the program she has made a lot of progress in her self-confidence,” Angulo said.

The center was founded in 1972 as the Community Habilitation Center by a group of parents concerned about the development of their disabled children.

“They graduated from high school and then there were not many options for them,” said Natalia Wong, the center’s executive director. “So the parents decided to open this center.”

As participation in the center’s programs grew over the years, a new building was erected in 2002. And this year the Community Habitation Center changed its name to The WOW Center.

The center at 11450 SW 79th St. currently has a waiting list of 60 persons, and plans to open five additional classrooms in a new building, said Wong.

“A few years ago we realized it was urgent to reposition ourselves. With the modest resources we have at the center it would have not been possible,” said Roymi Membiela, chair of the center’s board.

The Miami-based advertising and public relations firm Republica offered to help, she said.

“The WOW Center is a well-kept secret in South Florida,” said Republica CEO Jorge Plasencia.

“We are proud of the work we have done . . . it was necessary for the center to lure potential donors or corporate sponsors so as to obtain more subsidies for the programs they offer.”

A total of 148 persons ages 22 to 75 take part in the center’s activities, which train them to develop independence in various aspects of life.

“Today we went to Publix to buy groceries. Each of them took a cart, chose their own products and paid for them,” said Betzy Kuiper, a Basic Community Education instructor.

The center’s participants go to different places where they can learn to be on their own: shopping, to the movies, to the beach or wherever they choose, Kuiper added.

In other classes they learn to cook, to clean and stay focused on the activity they are doing. They also take classes in the center’s Technology Lab, where they learn to use a computer, send emails and other modern-day activities necessary for employment.