seagulls_christmas_play_web.jpgNORTH PALM BEACH — Brittney may not have hit the perfect note every time but her rendition of Silent Night couldn’t have been more perfect. Playing the role of an angel, complete with halo, and seated in her wheelchair, the 25-year-old West Palm Beach resident belted out the words of the carol with excitement and enthusiasm.

Brittney — whose first name only is being used for this story — was one of the performers at the annual holiday party for Seagull Industries for the Disabled in Riviera Beach.

The agency supports the physically and developmentally disabled and also operates a charter school for ages 12 to 22 known as SAIL — Seagull Academy for Independent Living — a “choice” school offered through the School District of Palm Beach County.

For 32 years, Seagull Industries, which was named the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches’ Non-Profit Organization of the Year for 2010-2011, has been helping people with physical and mental challenges lead functional, fulfilling lives of fulfillment through education and vocational training and learning social and daily living skills.

The charter school opened in 2002. “Our goal is to assist them to transition from high school to independent living and self reliance,” said Marni Greenberg, apecial events coordinator.

So on any given day, the younger students among the 200 people served by the agency may be in school, and the adults may be at work in the Seagull Industries’ factory or warehouse. But this particular day was set aside for entertainment.

The auditorium of the First Presbyterian Church of North Palm Beach came to life with people playing wise men, angels and even Jesus for the holiday production.

Field trips are also a big hit, including a recent outing with the Miami Dolphins. Through the United Way of the Palm Beaches, students got a chance to visit Dave and Buster’s in Hollywood as part of the football team’s NFL Hometown Huddle Program to promote healthy eating. The students played games, interacted and participated in exercises.

“It’s just a great benefit for them,” Greenberg said. “Meeting the players was all they talked about on their way down. I think they really didn’t realize it until we were on the way down who it was they were meeting. I think they were a little bit flabbergasted and a little bit speechless.”

Though their degree of disabilities varies, all of the students could relate to just having fun. “It’s very fulfilling and I feel honored to be a part of it,” said Jackie Laurian of the Miami Dolphins Women’s Organization. “Some of the kids we invited don’t necessarily have the skills at hand so we did this to get them involved to play and experience interacting with the players and getting active when they might not be able to in another way.”

But the students also enjoy their school, which is tailored to their needs. Marisel, 18, a senior at SAIL, attended a traditional public school before transferring to the Seagull school. “It teaches me more [than traditional schools] and helps me to be independent,” she said.

Seagull Industries also operates The Achievement Center of the Palm Beaches which provides work opportunities for its clients, as well as two assisted living facilities — on Singer Island and in Indian town — that provide round-the-clock supervision and training coaches to help clients achieve independent living skills.

Executive Director Fred Eisinger has been with Seagull for 25 years and has watched the agency grow and also seen the social services industry change. He said it’s increasingly difficult now to care for the disabled due to state funding cuts.

“Now there are so many cuts to such agencies,” he said. “Years ago it was at least do-able. But now it’s extremely hard.” Seagull relies heavily on local government, foundations and private donations for funding.

For more information on Seagull Industries, call Fred Eisinger at 561-842-5814 ext. 131


JOYOUS PERFORMER: A clients of Seagull Industries for the Disabled in Riviera Beach perform during a recent holiday production at First Presbyterian Church of North Palm Beach.