PANAMA CITY BEACH — When the St. Andrew Bay Center asked their client, Shirley, what she liked in life and what her dreams might be, her answer was pretty simple — she liked money.She works at the center, a day training program for adults with mental and intellectual disabilities, most days, packing napkins and flatware for local restaurants and stuffing newspapers into plastic sleeves. She even takes home a paycheck, which she said she spends on clothes and shoes. 

But Ron Sharpe, the center’s executive director, wanted to take Shirley’s dream a step further. Through their Dream Inspired Planning program, which gives clients a chance to spend a day working their dream job, Sharpe, and Centennial Bank, were able to let Shirley spend an hour behind the counter at their Panama City Beach Branch, learning how to be a teller and servicing the drive-thru window.

“All we’re really doing is helping them be more independent and more productive in their lives,” Sharpe said. “Trying to find their niche.”

Before Shirley was even given any assignment at the bank she was already making herself at home, asking the tellers their names, asking about their kids, and doling out compliments like candy. The bank employees took her under their wings, walking her through each transaction, letting her hold the money and collect receipts, all while giving a generous helping of high-fives and encouragement. 

“It’s emotional, watching her,” Sharpe said. “I know on the ride back we’re going to be talking about it.”

Because of her limitations, Shirley wouldn’t be able to work as a teller at the bank, Sharpe explained, but that doesn’t mean she couldn’t do light janitorial work for them, or work as a greeter. It’s about the experience, he said, and while matching their clients and a sponsor can be a challenge, it’s definitely rewarding.

Last month, for instance, the St. Andrew Bay Center was able to help another client achieve his dream of being a truck driver like his father and brother.

“They will remember this for the rest of their lives,” Sharpe said. “They will talk about this every day they come back to the center.”