Margaret Newman Thornton & Silvia Haas of OCA: Women Who Move The City

Meet Margaret Newman Thornton & Silvia Haas of OCA.

Thorton Haas


COO and CEO, respectively | OCA, A Special Place for Special Needs

Thirteen years ago, Silvia Haas and Margaret Newman Thornton gathered on a park bench with a group of women they call the “founding sisters.” Their goal was to provide support for families with children with special needs. That first meeting took place with 18 other parents to discuss their children’s current needs and envision a future where they could have a place to “work, live, and play.” It was this meeting that launched OCA, which stands for Opportunity, Community, Ability.

The goal that each person can and should contribute to their community anchored the mission to enable individuals and families with autism or other disabilities. “We started with summer camps, then added after-school recreational care,” said Thornton, COO.

Haas, now CEO of the thriving organization, keeps the focus on ability. “Each year, we add programs because we respond to the needs of our participants,” said Haas. For instance, when participants started aging out of programs, the team added Adult Vocational Training.

They developed strong partnerships, like with Central Florida Dreamplex, a therapeutic provider with whom they share a building. Having expanded facilities is a game-changer for them and the families they serve. They’ve been able to increase programming by seventy-five percent. Haas coaches the OCA Eagles, their Special Olympics soccer team, who have been invited to the USA games four times, winning gold in 2018. In 2015, Haas was runner-up for Central Floridian of the Year and, in 2021, won OCA second place in The Victory Cup Initiative. Thornton, a licensed mental health counselor and Board-Certified Behavior Analyst, focus- es on developing the programs needed to support families with a foundation of evidence-based practices and scientifically proven success. Her passion for Early Intervention helped expand their programs to serve birth through adults.

The future is now their focus. The goal is going beyond day programs to create a place for participants to live where they can contribute their abilities and impact the community.


5165 ADANSON ST. | ORLANDO, FL 32804 | PHONE: 407-808-7837 | GOOCA.ORG

Categories: Women Who Move The City