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Community Conversations: Introducing the Wonderful Julie Lobdell, Microbusiness Specialist of the Els Center’s Adult Day Program (ADT)

I was the Adult Day Program Coordinator, but now because the microbusiness has become so successful, I was asked to focus more time to the business and have moved into the position of the Microbusiness Specialist 

A Brief Biography: About Julie Lobdell

Julie has 30 years of experience working with individuals with autism and other related disabilities of all ages. She has created and implemented a variety of specialized program services in addition, she had over two decades of successful partnerships within Palm Beach County: This included working directly with Palm Beach County city municipalities to ensure successful inclusion for recreation program services, and for afterschool and out of school day camp services along with working with college students for intern hours for all program services.

Among her experiences include the implementation and management of two adult day program one being APD and another private pay.  Both programs provided hands-on learning experiences for participants in the areas of daily living, safety, social and money skills, community inclusion outings, ongoing volunteer projects, art and vendor shows, and employment skills. In addition, with the APD funded day program she oversaw a supported employment program service which offered ongoing support to employed individuals to help them reach their highest potential and guide them toward their future career goals.  She created and managed out of school day camps from Boca to Jupiter for in house settings and inclusion options for ages 5-highschool.  She also implemented and oversaw an adult social group that met two times a month for dances, special guests, outing in PBC and out of town trips to places like Sea World, Disney, Epcot and had over 300 members.

Introducing Julie Lobdell

I have known Julie for a long time, and I have only good things to say about her. She’s a wonderful and empathetic person, a driven entrepreneur and teacher, a fantastic artist, and she has improved the lives of so many people, especially the individuals and families who seek her help through the Els for Autism Foundation®. She started the Els Center’s Sea of Possibilities microbusiness program in March of 2020 (Apply here: Sea of Possibilities – A Microbusiness with Els for Autism® Adult Day Training (ADT) Program – Els for Autism), in which participants create a variety of ocean-themed art projects using materials from the beach such as shells, driftwood, coral, sand, and sea glass. They also go out into the community and sell their art work

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Decoupage Plaque – $20.00

Some of the things that her program teaches to participants include:

– Design and development

– Staying on task

– Communication skills

– Community inclusion

– Money skills

– Motor skills

– Vocational skills

– Customer service

I am grateful to have the rare opportunity to interview Julie and share her experiences and wisdom with you. I am extremely proud to call her a friend. I am certain that you will like her too after reading this article.

Without further ado, here is our conversation!

Questions for Julie Lobdell

How did you get started at the Els Center? 

I had come to the Els for Autism Foundation several times over the years as a guest speaker for their Round Table discussion service or invited to just discuss the specialized program services that I was responsible for serving youth to adults.  I was impressed with the Els because of all their amazing new progress and services they were providing and starting up.  About six times a year staff there would reach out to me, and we would share program information to each other.

A month before I was going to retire, I had contacted one of the employees in adult services to say that I was leaving and who they would contact in the future.  She had said that they were going to be starting up and adult day program at the foundation and had asked me for some advice and I had given her my opinion and suggestions as to what type of ratio services were not being provided and how there was such a need out in the community for less than 10-1.  She had asked me if I would be interested in applying once things became finalized. I had said that I was happy to provide any suggestions and feedback and made her aware of some grant opportunities out there for adult services.  I told her that I would keep it in the back of my mind but at the time I had other plans in place that were keeping my plate full.  

About 5-6 month later I was contacted by her, and she stated that they were excited about the progress of getting the adult day program up and running and asked me if I could come in for an interview to work part time.  I was intrigued by this because it was the Els for Autism Foundation, and they do things differently than other special needs agencies.  In the interview, I shared my experiences in creating and implementing adult day program services and how the day-to-day operations were. This was going to be a first-time continuum program service for the foundation.   I was excited during the interview because I enjoy creating programs and services.  I became even more intrigued in my thoughts of doing this because the leadership team was going to be involved in the process of the development of the adult day program being Dr. Marlene Sotelo and Dr. Erin Lozott.  In addition, their clinical team a BCBA, Speech Therapist, and an OT.  I though wow this will be such an amazing opportunity for families to receive a ratio of 3:1 and to have specialized program team members and I did not hesitate to accept the position as the Adult Day Program Coordinator even though I had other things I was working on because this was going to be a one-of-a-kind program that others will want to recreate and use as a model.  The adult day program started in February of 2020.  

You are also an artist. Tell me about the Sea of Possibilities microbusiness that you are overseeing How did you start it and how can interested people get involved? How many people can participate at the same time? Is there a waitlist?

After being hired; I sat with the CFO, and she asked me if I could create a microbusiness within the day program because that is a part of the deliverables of the adult day programs grant.  I said sure, I can do it and she said are you sure? I gave her my word that I would and from that moment on my thoughts were on fulfilling my commitment to this microbusiness. I was on major think mode as I knew I needed to create a novel idea that would appeal to most people, and it needed to be something relating to the creation of something that could be a gift for someone or an item people like to collect and admire and not a onetime idea or a once a year gift.  

I was eager to see the transformations of this and it needed to be something fun! COVID hit in March of 2020, and we needed to go online and were also able to meet outside for services. We met at the beach and collected all types of items such as shells, driftwood, dried sea weed, coral, sea glass and even some shark’s teeth.  Thus, this started off with a few ocean inspired ideas and I watched the adults in the day program truly enjoying their creations as they came to life.  The foundation team members and families were all very intrigued by their creations and this was getting a lot of attention.  I must share I got to be the person witnessing all their faces being so proud of what they created and how it made them feel when others wanted to buy their creations.  This idea became so much more than just creating something because it provides so many skill areas along with their self-gratification.  I knew then that their ocean creations, were certainly the correct journey to go on and then a wave of production grew thus, Sea of Possibilities was created.  

The adults do such an amazing job with their attention to detail and following the design and development of the various ocean inspired items that they are creating. They are taking part in many essential life skill areas for employment and independence for each project idea.  

We go out in the community to vendor fairs and events, and the adults shine in the customer service skills area. They are being so impowered by their microbusiness watching something that they learned how to create being purchased right in front of them.  When we have a big order to fill to see their excitement of how many items someone ordered.  This experience just makes your heart so happy to see them happy and for what they are creating themselves along with feeling the confidence for their creative work.  Some of the individuals over time have mastered levels of production and it is amazing to get to witness someone who needed assistance in step one goes to the next step or to full completion with no prompts or assistance. I kept the mindset of my commitment to the CFO to yes, I can create a microbusiness within ADT.  In addition, my mindset as well was with Dr. Marlene Sotelo and Dr Erin Lozott, not because they are my supervisors and it is my responsibility to fulfill what I have been asked to do but because they were and are so supportive to me and the adults with this idea, of Sea of Possibilities.  To see both of them get so excited for the adults and get involved in assisting in the process of all areas of this microbusiness idea for it of was not like anything I had experienced this type of supportive leadership for over 5 years prior to me coming to the foundation.     

Dr. Marlene Sotelo guided me to align this creative idea as to the how the Sea of Possibilities idea can become a microbusiness and connected us with SCORE a mentoring service that we met with several times on how to do this.  Through this mentoring service we were able to put all the pieces together and make it happen.  Sea of Possibilities became a microbusiness, and we launched a Facebook page, a Instagram page and online ordering capabilities in April of 2022.  Dr. Erin Lozott wrote a grant to specifically to support Sea of Possibilities and later asked if I wanted to focus solely on the microbusiness. Well, lol it was a split-second decision because I would still have daily engagement and interactions with the individuals in the day program by instructing them on how to create the ocean inspired projects. Also the adults work with me side by side at all the vendor shows and events.  We now have a new Adult Services Associate Director, and she is all about the people first so hands down she is the right person for that position! 

The other foundation departments marketing and development are very supportive as well of the microbusiness as they always include us in the events to help spread the word or having us create a specialty item for an event.  We also get tremendous support from the other foundation’s team members, in helping to support the adult’s microbusiness.   The parents are so amazing in helping to support the microbusiness in so many ways. They too are so proud of their adult children for what they can create and the many skill areas that they shine in. In addition, I must say too that the families are so supportive of the adult day program and in April of 2022, the adult day program initiative idea for world autism awareness was Riders and Walkers in blue & the families helped raise over $8,000 that went directly back into the day program. 

Through everyone’s support and guidance Sea of Possibilities has really taking off with partnering with Lucky Shuck in Jupiter, not only selling our items in their store Tackle Box, but offer us space two times a month a table in the heart, partner with Loggerhead Marinelife Center in their gift shop, and at Publix Super Market at Frenchman’s Crossing, 4101 Hood Rd.  and we will continue to do outreach with other businesses in the community.

Be on the lookout and mark your calendars for dates on our Facebook page starting in October we will be a vendor on various dates at the Greenmarket in Palm Beach Gardens and other venue locations.  

What do you like most about your job?

I am extremely impressed by this vision of the Els for Autism’s foundation because after over a quarter of a century in this field this place is a one-of-a-kind with all the specialized program services and the truly passionate team members.  Ernie and Liezl Els are such down to earth amazing people, and I am thankful to be apart of this foundation and to assist in the fulfillment of the vision and progress which will have no limits of possibilities.

l do find great joy in being a part of changes that results in someone’s progress because there is nothing more rewarding then knowing that you were a part of how someone has made progress or reached a milestone, completed something on their own for the first time or overcame obstacles that were challenging. I get to see this, and it has such an overwhelming feeling that it is indescribable. Working with a team of people who are so passionate about the outcomes of others come to life in front of us from all the various supports that are put in place, such as the utilization of best practices and the knowledge of tweaks to help support someone and differentiations of lessons and activities to the day-to-day operation and even for specific individuals or groups of individuals this is a one-of-a-kind place.

Let me elaborate more on the this.. some individuals who came into the day program with a 1:1 support assistant, that support assistant has faded.  Individuals who are nonverbal are now utilizing their AAC devices either more often or have become more proficient in the use of them and or using visuals to communicate their wants and needs. Individuals who required hand over hand are putting together a project and/or completing several object task bin steps in the labs or the classroom. Individuals have discovered and enjoy new activities, interacting with someone and making friends. I love watching a quiet person get so excited about a creation that they made and stand up and raise their voice saying, “Yeah I did it, this is my best work ever”.  I have seen individuals who have anxiety but now go out in public and in the gift shop at Loggerhead Marinelife Center, where we have our Sea of Possibilities art items for sale, and saw their coaster and stated out loud, “Hey this is something that I made and it is in this store”, attending a vendor show and speaking to customers and ordering their own lunch.   

It has been almost three years now since I came to the foundation and what an amazing journey it has been to be a part of this program and the foundation.  

What are your proudest accomplishments, and why do they mean so much to you?

Being a part of the creation of the ADT program for these amazing adults we serve and having the one-on-one relationships with their families has more than made me feel like I have accomplished something to be proud of.  It has given me the ability to have an extension to my family because this does not feel like work to me as it feels like we are all coming together collectively to ensure the safety, well-being and progress of a loved one.  There is such a need for this type of service after high school for all the families out there who have loved ones with autism and the operation on how this adult day program is offered far exceeds anything out there in the community. 

The leadership team too because they believed in me and supported me so we as a team have introduced the adults into an amazing day program that has a microbusiness that will be sustainable long after I go.  This day program and the microbusiness for the adults have introduced them to so many skill areas that there really are no words for me to express why does it mean so much to me? Except the fact that I am enjoying being a part of a place where people truly care about the amazing individuals that we get the pleasure of serving and helping them to become more successful in their day-to-day life and empowering them with knowledge to do so.

I am an extremely serious person and when I have been tasked with something that involves someone’s life who will need my support to move forward, to me there are no limits of pushing myself to help an individual get there.    

Who inspires you? Who are your mentors, and how did they help you?

The individuals in the adult day program do, as I get the pleasure of being around them and they truly inspire me to make a difference in their daily lives. I must also say that the leadership here too inspires me as well — as it is my driving force, knowing how much they care about these adults and the results we achieve together.  

The Els for Autism Foundations team members are truly dedicated and passionate about what they do here and why.  This inspires me to go to the edge of what I do because there are no limits to the possibilities you can perform when you have an array of team members supporting you and your clients.  Together our endeavors create endless potential and outcomes for these amazing people we get to be with day to day.


Thank you for your time and readership. I hope you enjoyed this interview. There will be more interviews with more people to come in the near future. Have a great day!


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