Ponte Vedra's HEAL Foundation distributes 40 iPads to local ESE classrooms

Ponte Vedra Beach-based nonprofit has distributed 400 total iPads in four years

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The HEAL Foundation distributed 40 iPads to Exceptional Student Education (ESE) classrooms throughout St. Johns, Duval, Nassau, Clay and Baker counties last week. 

The deliveries are the result of the organization’s iPads Helping Enrich Autistic Lives (iHEAL) initiative. The program, which started about four years ago, has led to a total of 400 iPads being gifted to local schools. 

“These are teachers who aren’t necessarily getting a lot of supplies that they need covered by the schools and then they’re dipping in their own pockets,” said Jason Gurka, executive director of the HEAL Foundation, which is based in Ponte Vedra Beach. “So, to be able to hand them a $400 item that really is going to not only assist the kids but encourage their growth and development, to be part of HEAL and to see the reaction firsthand, it makes all the work throughout the year worth it.”

The nonprofit’s goal with the initiative is to gift an iPad to every local ESE classroom in Northeast Florida and help support local students with intellectual and developmental differences. Each iPad comes with a protective case and a $25 iTunes gift card, so teachers can purchase educational apps for their students.

Kaitlyn Goyette, a support facilitation teacher at Ponte Vedra High School, received her iPad and accessories from HEAL on Friday. She said the tool will serve eight classrooms and approximately 30 students. She noted that the apps on the iPad will assist students with communication and fundamental skills such as math, science and English.  

“I just know it’s going to do a lot of good for a lot of students,” Goyette said.

Gurka added that the iPads are especially helpful for those students who are nonverbal because the technology enables them to communicate their wants and needs, from needing a restroom break to more generally advancing their education. 

That exact concept is what led to the formation of the iHEAL initiative. HEAL founders Leslie and Bobby Weed discovered that their daughter, Lanier, who is non-verbal and profoundly affected by Autism, was able to communicate at the age of 16 with the support of an iPad. The Weeds realized other lives could be impacted in a similar way by starting the program.

“The goal is to get technology directly in the teachers’ hands, so that they can hopefully have more stories like Lanier and let these students grow,” Gurka said.

Funding for iHEAL and many other HEAL initiatives derive from the nonprofit’s annual gala, which is coming up on Feb. 21 at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach. iHEAL is open to teachers supporting children with special needs in St. Johns, Baker, Clay, Duval and Nassau counties. For more information on how to apply for an iPad, visit http://www.healautismnow.org/.

“It’s a pretty powerful initiative,” Gurka said, “and it really does change lives.”

 400 iPads to local schools over the last four years. 

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