As the Therapeutic and Senior Recreation Program supervisor for the city of Ocala, LaToya Artis develops and implements a variety of programs each year for senior and therapeutic populations in Ocala.
LaToya Artis advises that “Therapeutic Recreation” (TR) enables persons with physical, cognitive, emotional and/or social limitations to acquire and/or maintain the skills, knowledge and behaviors that will allow them to enjoy their leisure, function independently with the least amount of assistance and participate as fully as possible in society. This can apply to individuals who are classified with a physical or mental disability and those with social limitations, which includes seniors. The programs she oversees include, but are not limited to, sporting events and leagues, dance classes, art classes, wellness seminars, cooking classes, bus trips and holiday programming. But what she also brings the communities she serves is a daily dose of good cheer.
“I enjoy being able to bring a smile to someone’s face every day,” Artis shares. “When I go to dance class and I see 30 people socializing and ready to dance, I smile. As we check participants in for one of our many day trips and everyone is smiling and socializing, I smile. When the wood carvers social group comes into the center each week, ready to laugh and joke with each other, I smile. That is the joy of recreation and why recreation is the heartbeat of a community, because our job is to put a smile on everyone’s face.”
Her smile and the smiles of those participating in her programs are one of the first things you notice, but her commitment is also on display. The larger purpose of her work is meaningful and lasting engagement.
“The main goal when developing programs for senior and therapeutic recreation is to get them out of the house and socialize,” she explains. “Creating a routine that they can look forward to each week and giving them a variety of programs they can choose from while keeping them active and engaged, that is the main goal.”
Artis also develops several yearly, citywide special events, including the Parade of Senior Services held at the College of Central Florida, The Hispanic Senior Wellness Fair, the Halloween Family Fun Run and Santa on the Square.
Originally from Linden, New Jersey, Artis moved to Ocala in 2019 from Fayetteville, North Carolina, where she had moved to attend college. It was there that she spent 23 years raising her three children and began her career, which included working for the city of Fayetteville/Cumberland Parks and Recreation and the Gilmore Therapeutic Recreation Center.
“After my second daughter graduated from high school, I felt I needed a change in life. While applying for a variety of positions, my current job became available and I decided to make Ocala my new home,” she shares. ”Along with being a Certified Parks and Recreation Professional, I am a Certified Xtreme Hip Hop Step Aerobics instructor, line dance instructor and choreographer. I didn’t know I had these talents until I moved to Florida. During the pandemic, dance saved me after a bad car accident. Dealing with the isolation of the pandemic, I started going to an outdoor dance class every week and never looked back.”
Another life-changing event for Artis involved her introduction to the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization Champions for Champions (CFC).
“When I arrived in Ocala, Champions for Champions was the first group that was committed to helping me revamp Ocala Recreation and Parks Therapeutic Program,” she recalls. “Maria [Conny Roman] and I have partnered on many programs, including cooking classes, art classes, virtual programs and our flagship program Tag Team Sports, which is a buddy sports program that includes a variety of sporting programs throughout the year. My relationship with Champions for Champions started off by partnering on work-related programs but evolved into a personal relationship.”
“Latoya goes beyond her job as Therapeutic Program Director. She, together with her son Ryan, also volunteer on their off days with Champions for Champions activities,” reveals CFC Founder and CEO Maria Conny Roman. “We built a community together, advocating for the people with different abilities. Latoya and her son are like a family to us.”
Artis reveals that her family has always been at the core of her drive to create the reality she wanted to come true, to never give up on her dreams and know her worth.
“The people that have always inspired me are the women in my family,” she shares. “My grandmother’s determination to leave her home country of Jamaica at about 33 years old to give the next ‘generation’ opportunities never offered to her. In her 40’s, she earned her GED and BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) and ultimately became assistant director of nursing for one of the biggest state hospitals in New Jersey. She inspired me, my aunts, my mother and my daughters to never settle and know your current situation does not have to define you.” OS
To learn more about the city of Ocala’s Therapeutic and Senior Recreation Program, visit ocalafl.org/government/city-departments-i-z/recreation-parks/recreation/therapeutic-recreation