The Village at Gainesville wins inclusivity award

Resident Garden at The Village at Gainesville
The Village at Gainesville was honored as the Inclusive Employer of the Year by the Florida Center for Students with Unique Abilities. (Photo by Taryn Ashby)
Photo by Taryn Ashby

The Florida Center for Students with Unique Abilities (FCSUA) recognized The Village at Gainesville, a senior living community, as the Inclusive Employer of the Year.

Linda Musillo, a program administrator for Santa Fe College’s Project SAINT, nominated The Village at Gainesville for working with Project SAINT to employ Santa Fe College students and graduates at the senior living community.

The Project SAINT program is for young adults under 25 who have intellectual disabilities. The non-credit program provides students with a modified college experience, giving them personalized programs that include academics, vocational training and internships.

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A portrait photo of Santa Fe College student Sienna Smillov
Courtesy of Santa Fe College Sienna Smillov found work at The Villages at Gainesville through a Santa Fe College program.

“[The SAINT program features] their inclusive associates over there, and through job placement with our Human Resources department, the associates came here,” said dining services manager Cheryl Huntington. “We have three associates through this program, making The Village the only facility in Florida with multiple associates with longevity.”

Huntington accepted the award on behalf of the community at the Florida Postsecondary Education Planning Program Institute on July 13.

“We are really excited. We enjoy collaborating with the associates from Santa Fe, and our residents at the Village love having them around,” Huntington said. “It shows our diversity and how much we care about our community.”

Huntington said one SAINT program student, Sienna Smillov, thrives within the program, where she works as a server assistant in the cafeteria. She also helps with resident companionship, rolling silverware, cleaning and busing tables.

Before working at The Village, Smillov was shy and struggled to make eye contact with people, but she improved her work skills and was able to transition from school to finding a job.

Smillov recently graduated from a baking course at Santa Fe College, so that she can help with the pastries and cookies.

“Sienna is one of the reasons The Village at Gainesville is an awesome place to live and work,” Huntington said in a press release. “She makes me very proud to accept this award on behalf of the The Villages at Gainesville.”

The Village staff plans to grow the program in the senior living community. Huntington said she will participate in Santa Fe College’s disabilities week and answer questions about job placements.

Village Executive Director Rebecca Catalanotto said, “Cheryl really was the drive behind us pursuing this program, so I definitely want to give her accolades and thank her for opening our eyes to this program.”

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