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Hernando neighbors | Nicole Flechas, 30

Family's struggle with disabled son prompts career

“We want to provide a toolbox for early learning providers, offering information, knowledge, financial assistance and incentives to excel,” says Nicole Flechas.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

“We want to provide a toolbox for early learning providers, offering information, knowledge, financial assistance and incentives to excel,” says Nicole Flechas.

How long have you lived in Hernando County, and where do you live? Where did you live previously?

I have lived in Hernando County for more than three years. Before moving to Spring Hill, I spent two years in the Florida Keys. I was born and raised in Elizabeth, N.J.

Who are the members of your family?

I live in Spring Hill with my boyfriend, Pedro Mateo, and my Boston terrier, Chubba. My family is still up North, including my parents and 13-year-old brother. I am first-generation American. My family is originally from Colombia.

Tell us about your career.

I earned bachelor's and master's degrees in counseling psychology from Monmouth University in New Jersey. My first job, while completing my master's degree, was in a residential program with girls who had been severely sexually abused. After completing my master's, I moved to Florida and worked as a residential clinical coordinator in the Keys. I also assisted in establishing the first group home for adolescents in Key West.

During this time, my parents were dealing with obstacles concerning my brother who has special needs. At 3 weeks old, he had open-heart surgery. He was later diagnosed developmentally delayed. While trying to get him the appropriate services, I would work with them over the phone and attend conferences via phone. The experiences led me to change my career path, changing my focus to children with special needs.

In April 2007 I was hired at the Early Learning Coalition of Pasco and Hernando Counties as an inclusion specialist. I assisted parents and children going through the same obstacles my own family dealt with. It was very rewarding.

In March 2008, I became the quality manager. It has been a great experience, allowing me to mold and create.

My focus this year is "Educate and Enhance." We want to provide a toolbox for early learning providers, offering information, knowledge, financial assistance and incentives to excel. We provide at least one educational training per month for teachers, day care owners and parents on various topics. (Training sessions are listed at www.phelc.org.)

This year, we're introducing our first Early Educators Conference. It will be held in New Port Richey to make it convenient for our local registrants to attend.

With the economy in mind, we are now offering assistance to those trying to start an early learning facility or home day care in disaffected areas. And we provide assistance for providers to become accredited by a recognized institution. We're even providing financial assistance to attend conferences and purchase required curricula.

We also provide community outreach through a van. The unit has more than 3,000 items for providers and other community agencies to check out. At local events we attend, we provide books to children as a way to promote early literacy. We also provide parents information on behavior, voluntary prekindergarten, parenting and other subjects.

We also have three inclusion staffers covering Hernando and Pasco who will visit day care centers and provide intervention services, training and links to other professionals in the community.

Currently, I'm working on my internship to become a licensed mental health counselor as well as a registered play therapist. I also attend Argosy University, where I am working on my doctorate in counseling psychology.

What kinds of activities are you involved in now?

With my hefty schedule with work, school and the internship, I don't have much time left. But I am involved with motorcycle awareness. On July 18, my cousin was killed while riding his bike. He was only 21 years old. His sister and I are working on ways to provide our communities with information on motorcycle awareness. We have also initiated a support group for families and surviving victims.

Do you have any special hobbies?

I enjoy riding my 2008 Speed Triple motorcycle. It's nice after a long day of work to be able to feel free and feel the wind in your face. I also work out with a punching bag and on floor mats in my own dojo. Great stress relievers.

What are your favorite things to do in Hernando County?

I enjoy Weeki Wachee Springs. The first summer I moved to Hernando County, I saw the mermaid show every weekend and spent weekends at the springs. It's a great place to take my family when they visit.

What do you think would make Hernando County a better place to live?

Honesty, I really like Hernando. It has a little of everything, and you're close to everything as well. The only thing that would make it better would be a dog park (which will be opening soon). Chubba enjoys running and being free, though we are working on his socialization skills with other dogs.

Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know.

I'm pregnant!

Hernando Neighbors is an occasional feature of the Hernando Times. Do you know someone who would make a good profile? We'd like to hear from you. Contact Jean Hayes, community news coordinator, at jhayes@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1438.

Family's struggle with disabled son prompts career 11/01/08 [Last modified: Saturday, November 1, 2008 10:33am]
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