Pediatric Therapies

The Arc Gateway’s experienced pediatric professionals provide services through the Pearl Nelson Center for children who have, or are at risk of, developmental disabilities. The children reach their potential in a fun and safe environment while learning and playing with friends.

What is the Pearl Nelson Center?

The Pearl Nelson Center is the largest early intervention provider agency in the community for Early Steps including physical, occupational, & speech therapies along with developmental instruction services. 


Services are implemented in a family-centered approach where parents
learn strategies to help promote their child’s developmental and functional life skills. Parents are assisted with the transition to public school services for their child if further intervention is needed when Early Steps funding ends for the child at three years of age.


In Pearl Nelson’s pediatric therapy services parents are not only welcomed but encouraged to be a part of every session, as they are recognized as a the primary influence on their child’s success, Spacious therapy rooms promote a family-friendly environment that allows for creative and structured activities. Therapy sessions involve movement, toys and fun interaction that may look like play to an adult observer. However, therapy is important work that uses guided play designed to help a child achieve success.

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Therapy Services


Developmental Instruction

Provided by Infant Toddler Developmental Specialists for children, birth to three years of age, who have been referred by the local Early Steps Program. Children qualify if they are diagnosed with one of many conditions that are historically known to be associated with developmental delays or by meeting eligibility criteria based upon scores from a multi-disciplinary developmental evaluation.


Services are provided in the home, childcare setting, in the community or at the Pearl Nelson Center based upon the needs of the child and goals identified in their Individualized Family Support Plan. The Developmental Specialist works closely with parents and coaches them on activities to do during the child’s daily routines that are likely to promote important skill development.


Speech Therapy

Addresses the needs of children with speech concerns including Apraxia, articulation and phonological disorders. Our clinicians have experience with treating language disorders including working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and/or social communication disorders, as well as Augmentative and Alternative Communication methods.  We have a speech therapist trained in the Sequential Oral Sensory approach to feeding and treat children who have feeding and swallowing disorders as well.

Physical Therapy

Provides fun, challenging play activities for infants and children who have difficulties or delays in “big body” movement skills such as head control, rolling over, sitting, crawling and walking with a focus on strength and endurance activities. Therapists assist parents in understanding their child’s movements and how to improve the child’s functional mobility within his/her environment.


Occupational Therapy 

Works to improve fine motor, gross motor, motor planning, and self-care skills including oral motor control for eating. By incorporating sensorimotor activities, the child can better respond to and interact with his/her environment and peers. Therapy is tailored to each child’s specific needs in order to assist parents in understanding their child’s sensitivities and how to improve their child’s interactions with his/her environment.


Occupational therapists with special training can improve eye movements and visual skills to improve academics, posture and balance. Those trained in vision can work with small muscles in our eyes to strengthen them for everyday activities. In pediatrics, we focus on the eyes working together in order to help improve posture for functional mobility, reading for academic success,

and attention for behavioral success.

Ready to start therapy?

To receive pediatric therapy services, start by filling out the forms below.


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MaryAnn Bickerstaff

Children's Services Director

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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.

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.

Stephen Rampersad

Chief Advancement Officer

Stephen Rampersad lives in Pace, Florida, with his beloved wife and two sons. He’s deeply involved in community advocacy, but cherishes the role of fatherhood above all else. Stephen’s commitment to community engagement shines through various roles such as Chief Advancement Officer at The Arc Gateway, Board President of Hope Above Fear, and Ambassador for the Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce. When he’s not busy with his professional responsibilities, Stephen enjoys spending quality time with his family and finding peace in the tranquility of fishing. He values life’s simple pleasures and approaches each day with gratitude.

Lea Farrington

Chief Financial Officer

Lea joined The Arc Gateway in 2021, bringing with her over 18 years of experience in finance and accounting.  Lea earned her Bachelor’s degrees in accounting, finance and management at the University of Mobile in Alabama and a Master’s in Business Administration at the University of West Florida. Lea is also a Certified Public Accountant in the state of Florida. For several years, she has worked in the nonprofit industry, both domestically and internationally. As a Pensacola native, Lea is passionate about meeting the needs of the Northwest Florida community. In her spare time, she enjoys hanging out with her family and living up to her “boymom” title.

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.