On November 1, 1921, Florida opened the doors to its first community facility for Floridians with developmental disabilities in Gainesville. Originally called The Florida Farm Colony, the facility boasted three buildings on a 4,000-acre campus, 3,000 of which were donated by the citizens of Alachua County.
The Florida Farm Colony had 240 residents by the end of 1921, with most being children. The farm had originally hoped to be self-sustaining, with residents working in capacities such sewing, agricultural work, serving food, and other tasks. Because many of the residents were unable to work, the focus of the farm changed. In 1957, The Florida Farm Colony’s name was changed to Sunland Training Center of Gainesville, reflecting the desire to provide more educational opportunities for its residents.
Between 1947 and 1961 the farm expanded their facilities, with the number of residents reaching more than 2,000 individuals, including many children. The needs, interests, and activities of the residents of Sunland changed. The facility’s focus was on providing meaningful life experiences, such as therapy, recreational activities, and paying jobs. Residents enjoyed activities such as picnics, swimming, field trips, and arts and crafts. There were also well-established Cub Scout, Boy Scout, and Explorer programs.
Five additional Sunland Centers opened throughout the state between 1960 and 1967. However, as community care centers became more common and available to those in need, four of the five additional centers closed throughout the 1980s. In 1990, the Gainesville center was renamed to Tacachale, a Timucuan word meaning lighting a new fire in times of transition. The facility added individualized supports for residents, such as person-centered planning, to help each resident achieve their goals and dreams. Person-centered planning focused on the gifts, talents, and skills of each resident.
Between 1989 and 2022, residents received dental care through a partnership with the University of Florida. Services were provided by Dr. Timothy Garvey at Tacachale’s on-site dental clinic. Over the course of his career, Dr. Garvey received the Dr. E.A. Cosby Community Service Award (2010), the Humanitarian Award – Florida Dental Health Foundation (2010), DentaQuest’s Health Equity Hero Award (2020), and many others for his work with individuals with disabilities. While at Tacachale, Dr. Garvey also provided services to individuals with developmental disabilities in the community. In honor of Dr. Garvey, the Tacachale clinic will be renamed The Dr. Timothy Garvey Dental Clinic.
Today, residents of Tacachale are provided with a variety of opportunities for community engagement and leisure activities, including Special Olympics, cultural events, crafts, and other activities. Those interested in earning a paycheck have many opportunities to do so, both on and off campus. Tacachale began partnering with ClosetMaid in the 1990s, providing work for residents to assemble brackets for storage systems. Residents currently assemble over 5 million brackets a year. Another vocational opportunity for residents is to work with Tacachale Recycling, where approximately 7,000 pounds of paper and cardboard are processed each week.
As of December 1, 2021, Tacachale had 268 residents in their care. Residents are cared for by a medical team consisting of physicians, advanced practice providers, and nurses, as well as long-term support staff who provide one on one services when needed.
Tacachale’s vision is to be a national leader in services to persons with intellectual disabilities and an excellent place to live and work is clear to anyone that enters the facility. Tachachale’s mission and vision to enhance the quality of life for its residents will continue being the fire that lights their way through the twists and turns of the future.