PALS gives students with I/DD the opportunity to go to college, to learn new skills, explore careers, prepare for employment and ultimately gain more independence.

What is PALS?

The Arc Gateway Program for Adult Learning and Support (PALS) is a career certification program that focuses on career exploration, increased independence, and preparation to enter the workforce.


PALS is designed for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who want to learn new skills and get a job. Most applicants would have received special education services in the K-12 setting through an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan and exited their secondary school with a diploma, GED or certificate of completion.

How to Apply

The application process is broken down into three steps:


Step 1: Complete the online application. This provides us with student information, interests, and abilities.


Step 2: A personal interview. This allows the applicant to become more familiar with the program and campus while giving the admissions committee the opportunity to get to know the potential student.


Step 3: Notification of Acceptance. This is the official letter mailed to the student letting them know if they are accepted into the program. Along with the letter is important information about required documentation, if applicable, and start dates.

Is PALS for me?

To ensure that PALS is the best option for each applicant, we require a completed application packet. Individuals wishing to apply to the program should possess a majority of the items listed below. Additional requirements for specific training programs may also be required.

  • Desire to obtain community-based employment upon completion of career certification
  • Ability to perform hygiene routine independently or has services to provide this support
  • Ability to manage medications or has services to provide this support

  •  Ability to be unsupervised for an extended period of time on a college campus or in the community
  • Applicant does not exhibit disruptive behavior
  • Ability to communicate with others
  • Functional math skills
  • Functional reading skills by any mode
  • Functional writing skills or a mode to produce written material
  • Applicant has had prior vocational experiences that guided him or her to the chosen career path
  • Applicant must have a desire to get and keep a job following their career certification training
  • Applicant is 18 years or older (or will be 18 at the start of the training session)
  • Applicant has exited high school. Applicant can apply while in high school and remain in high school until the start of the training session.
  • Applicant has had satisfactory attendance at school and/or in other training programs
  • Applicant must be determined eligible based on criteria established under funding opportunity
  • Applicant can provide documentation for a diagnosis of a disability

Career Certification Paths

  • Administrative Services
  • Auto Detailing
  • Carpentry Helper
  • Cleaning & Maintenance
  • Food Service
  • Horticulture Studies
  • Lawn Care & Maintenance
  • Retail Services                                        

While most students will earn their certification in one year, the program does offer one semester certification tracks. Based on each student’s abilities, PALS staff are able to work the individual, PSC, and other agencies to develop and coordinate a plan for additional college courses that lead to other vocational certification and academic degrees.

   Benefits to Students

   • High Quality Student Experiences
   • Professional Development
   • Clarified Career Goals
   • Workforce Readiness
   • Increased Independence
   • Career Success

Be a Business Partner!​

Interested in becoming a PALS business partner or hosting an intern?

Hiring a person with disabilities can:


  • Create better relationships and expand customer base
  • Increase retention which reduces hiring and training costs
  • Make a positive impact on a person and their families
  • Provide possible tax incentives and deductions
  • Ensure diversity in the workplace
"Individuals with disabilities are dedicated and devoted; we can rely on them to come to work. It's more than an appropriate business practice; it's the noble thing to do for my business and customers."
Samantha Beach
Dondie Roper _ PALS Program Director

Need assistance?

Dondie Roper

PALS Director

View Bio

Dawn VonStein

Pollak Training Center Program Manager

A native of Pensacola, Dawn VonStein graduated from the University of West Florida with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood and elementary education.  She began working at The Arc Gateway in 1993 as a support specialist for the Women’s Training Center where she felt she could use her teaching background to help teach daily living skills to the women at the group home. When asked why she has made her career at The Arc Gateway she says it is, “because there are few other places I could work where every day is different, I feel like I’m making a difference in someone’s life, and I am truly loved by those I serve.”

Dondie Roper

PALS Program Director

Dondie is an innovator with more than 15 years’ experience driving results in program management, marketing, and media production. In addition to her studies in Journalism and Communication Arts at the University of West Florida, Dondie has received certification in Nonprofit Management. Dondie is very active in the community serving on board of directors for area nonprofit organizations, secretary/treasurer for UWADA, Loaned Executive with United Way, and volunteer with Special Olympics.

Brittany Houghton

Events Manager

Brittany graduated from Pensacola State College in 2014 with an Associate’s Degree in General Studies. She is currently enrolled and working towards her Bachelor’s Degree in Project Management. Before starting at The Arc Gateway in 2018, Brittany worked as the Digital Marketing and Social Media Manager for the Flora-Bama Lounge & Package. There she gained professional experience assisting the Events Department organizing many charity events. Brittany enjoys raising needed funds for our clients and giving tours of the organization to spread awareness. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling with her fiancé and supporting Downtown Pensacola with her pup.

Natalie Hurd

South Santa Rosa Associate Program Manager

Natalie began her journey with The Arc Gateway in October 2018.  She came on board with 20+ years of customer service experience in multiple platforms to include Walt Disney World and Gulf Power Company. She earned three college degrees to include an Associate of Science in Legal Assisting, a bachelor’s in Business Administration and a master’s in Public Administration.  Natalie has 6 furry four-legged children and enjoys attending and volunteering at Community Life United Methodist Church. 

Jennah White

Special Projects Manager

Jennah began her journey with The Arc Gateway in the fall of 2016 as an assistant to Human Resources. During her time with the agency, Jennah has acquired her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology along with a Certificate in Human Resources both from The University of West Florida.  Jennah can be considered a “jack-of-all-trades” thus securing her role as the Special Projects Manager (Office Manager). She also takes an active role in her community as a member of Pensacola Young Professionals.

Níta J Hooks

Senior Adult Program Manager

Níta started working at the Arc Gateway in January 2019 as the Senior Adult Program Manager. She began working in the Developmental Disabilities field in 2015 as a Support Coordinator and has worked as Supportive Living Coach and a QMRP. Níta earned an Associate Degree in Pre-Nursing, a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, and a Master of Education in Mental Health Counseling. She also worked as a Licensed Clinical Mental Therapist in Mississippi with all populations. “It is a joy to get up each morning, come into the program and work with such a wonderful group of people who keep me on my toes. I wouldn’t trade this job for anything in the world.”

Amanda Holtzhower

Human Resources Manager


Rebecca Baron

Residential & Community Service Director

Rebecca is a Pensacola native who graduated from the University of West Florida with a degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education. She has been a part of The Arc Gateway team for over 2 decades, starting her career with us in 1997. Rebecca’s first position with The Arc Gateway was a Support Specialist in the Pal/Ace program. From that role she became a Group Home Manager with one of our female group homes, then moved into her current position as Director of Residential and Community services. “I love making a difference in the lives of people we serve and assisting them to achieve their goals and gain skills toward independence.”

MaryAnn Bickerstaff

Children’s Services Director

MaryAnn Bickerstaff began her career at The Arc Gateway in 1986 as an Infant Toddler Developmental Specialist soon after completing an internship with the Pearl Nelson Center’s Early Intervention and Preschool programs at the completion of her Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education at the University of West Florida. After working in this role for four years, MaryAnn became the Early Intervention Coordinator and in 1990 assumed the position as Children’s Services Director. During this time, she is proud of the program’s growth and diversity in funding, including grants and fundraising activities, but she is most proud of the impact her team is making in the lives of children every day. MaryAnn is very engaged with community partners and serves on the Board of the Early Learning Coalition and the Operational Support Team of Achieve Escambia among others. MaryAnn is a proud to be a native of Pensacola.

Chip Henderson

Chief Advancement Officer

Chip graduated from the University of West Florida with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Arts in 1989 and has spent his career in marketing communications, fundraising and special events. He’s worked in a variety of industries and nonprofits, including The Arc Gateway in the mid-1990s. He founded and managed his own brand intelligence firm, Emagination Unlimited, for 18 years before deciding to follow his passion and “return home” to the nonprofit world. Mission-focused work is in his DNA.

Lea Farrington

Chief Financial Officer

Lea joined The Arc Gateway in 2021, bringing with her a wealth of knowledge about the non-profit and financial industries.

Cathy Lauterbach

Chief Operating Officer

Cathy Lauterbach has shared her talent with The Arc Gateway for over two decades. A California native, Cathy obtained a bachelor’s degree in management from St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California. She began her employment with the agency in 1995 as an employment specialist. From that role, she became the program manager at the Pollak Training Center before moving into the position as director of Residential and Community Services, and now her position as COO overseeing adult programs at The Arc Gateway. 

Melissa Rogers

Chief Executive Officer

Missy has been working in the field of developmental disabilities since 1997.  Throughout her career she has performed in a variety of roles including direct care, case management, fundraising and administration.  Her extensive knowledge base and experience allows her a unique perspective and understanding of issues facing the disabled community.  Missy’s passion and dedication can be felt in her decision-making process as she always puts the best interests of those being served by the agency first.  In her spare time, she can be seen acting with a local dinner theater acting troupe. Missy holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Elon University in North Carolina and is originally from Virginia.