Volunteer Assistant Brings Awareness to Disabilities

Alonna Torres photo

St Petersburg, FL Alonna Torres was always shy and quiet, but lately she has blossomed, becoming more outgoing and confident in her new job as volunteer assistant for Great Explorations Children's Museum. Alonna, who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, works closely with Program Director Shelly Lee, helping her with the museum's 300+ volunteers. Alonna inputs volunteer hours and information, files, and helps out at the museum's special events. She also gives museum tours to new volunteers.

Alonna is a superstar of Vocational Rehabilitation's (VR) On-the-Job Training program and a role model for young people with disabilities everywhere. She worked hard, learned new job skills, and did such a good job with her training that museum management decided to make it permanent. With the On-the-Job Training program, VR reimburses employers for the trainee's salary, training costs, and any accommodations needed. It's a win-win situation for both the business owner and the employee.

For Alonna's On-the-Job Training, VR provided the accommodations she needed a special desk, laser printer and special file cabinet - so she could work more comfortably. VR also supplied transportation so Alonna could get to and from work each day.

Shelly is pleased with how well Alonna is doing in her new job. "She is very eager to learn and accepts her responsibilities well," says Shelly. "She is progressing and a team player. Whenever we need something, she is right there."

Alonna is very happy to be working at the museum and is grateful to VR Counselor Carol Weinberg and Employment Specialist Christy Brown for helping her reach her goal of becoming employed.

Christy served as Alonna's job coach and offered support and assistance to help her adjust to her new job. She also continues to check on Alonna to make sure things are going smoothly. "Alonna strives to be independent," says Christy. "She has grown tremendously and gained real life skills at her job. She's now able to handle more things as they come up, and her self-esteem has really grown."

Carol believes that Alonna's maturity and motivation helped her succeed, and she is proud of her progress. When asked why she works as a VR counselor, Carol replies, "I enjoy working with students. I feel you can make quite an impression on the youth in helping them achieve their goals." And Alonna agrees.

On another note, Alonna has brought new awareness to museum staff and volunteers. Through her everyday interactions with the museum volunteers, Alonna educates them about disabilities and what it means to use a wheelchair every day. Alonna calls her job "rewarding" and enjoys helping at the events and meeting new people. She hopes to continue working at the Children's Museum for many years to come.

Florida's Vocational Rehabilitation program is committed to helping people with disabilities become part of America's workforce. Our employer-focused website, FLJobConnections.com, allows businesses to search at no charge for employees who are ready to go to work, as well as to post available jobs. VR has 111 offices across Florida, and last year helped 3,874 Floridians with significant disabilities find or keep a job. For more information about VR and its services, call (800) 451-4327 or visit Rehabworks.org.