VR works together with our customers, employers and providers to make a positive difference in the lives of Floridians with disabilities. Click on the success stories on how VR has helped these individuals successfully prepare for, find or get a better job.
Ingrid Cupeiro: Program Coordinator
Watching television can be a great stress reliever after a long day. But how do the programs get from production to the audience? That is where people like Ingrid Cupeiro play a leading role. As a member of the programming department at Telemundo Network, Ingrid schedules and coordinates programs, and she loves every minute of it. She also works on strategy and brainstorming on how to compete with other networks.
“My favorite part of the job is the competitive side,” Ingrid says. “I like to see how they function against each other, and how they compete against each other.” While Ingrid may have found a job she enjoys, at one point she was not sure if she would graduate high school–let alone college. This is because Ingrid was diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and math learning disabilities at a young age, which caused her to struggle in school. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 11 percent of children ages 4-17 have received an ADHD diagnosis.
Her school counselor recommended VR to help her transition from high school to the workforce. Ingrid began meeting with VR Counselor Fabiana Puliti to plan her future. After Ingrid graduated high school, she set her sights on earning a college degree, and VR provided financial assistance to make her dream a reality. “I know Ingrid was a hard worker,” Fabiana says. “She was a very independent young lady who would contact me when she needed help paying for something.” Ingrid excelled in college, earning her Associate in Arts degree from Miami-Dade College and a bachelor’s in Communication Arts from Florida International University (FIU). “VR helped me tremendously,” Ingrid says. “Without them I would not have been able to graduate. It was a bumpy road because I lost my mom at a young age. My VR counselor helped me get through that.” When Ingrid is not working, she enjoys spending time with her family. And although math was never her favorite subject in school, she does enjoy reading. “Whenever I have the opportunity I will have a book in my hand,” she says.
Ingrid has found the perfect job at Telemundo. She is glad her employer did not judge her based on her disability during the hiring process. “Everyone has a difficultly in something,” she says. “I think employers should just see past that and give someone a chance. They will be surprised.” VR honored NBC Universal Telemundo as an 2016 Outstanding Employer for their willingness and commitment to hiring people with disabilities.
Jessica Fernandez: Medical Doctor
In May 2018, Jessica Fernandez walked across the stage to accept her diploma from the University of Central Florida (UCF) College of Medicine. Supporting her along the journey to becoming a medical doctor was VR. At three years old, Jessica was diagnosed with spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia, a rare genetic disorder that affects bone growth and results in short stature. She is 4 feet 2 inches tall. Jessica also experiences hip and back pain. She said, “I once met someone who told me that the only true disability is having a bad attitude,” and that made her think that, “If you have a good attitude about everything, then you can conquer whatever you set your mind to,” and she had set her sights on becoming a medical doctor. Not only did she graduate but other medical students voted her to receive the UCF’s College of Medicine Humanitarian Award.
In medical school, other students navigate the hospital and clinics without ever giving it much thought. However, Jessica’s hip and back pain can make walking difficult and working with her VR counselor and rehab engineers, she was able to identify accommodations to help her overcome this barrier. VR was able to provide her with an electric wheelchair, vehicle modifications to transport her mobility device and pedal extenders to make driving her vehicle much easier. She now utilizes the electric wheelchair to help navigate hospitals and clinics. Before entering a facility, Jessica researches the layout and routes that she will need to utilize.
She has said that her life experiences bring a unique perspective. Jessica did her medical residency at Nemours/Alfred I. DuPont Hospital for Children, where, having once been a patient there herself, she brought a special sense of understanding to its work with children with movement disorders. At the Coalition for Disability Access in Health Science and Medical Education Symposium, in front of an audience of scholars, national advocates and medical educators, Jessica shared a message of ability, not disability. “Being able-bodied does not necessarily make you a better doctor,” she said. “Empathy and compassion are just as important as science.”
Zack Gottsagen: Actor
Zack Gottsagen wanted to act since the age of three. Through support from family, friends, coworkers and employers and his own self advocacy, Zack was able to find opportunities to aspire to be an actor as an individual with Down syndrome. His mother, Shelly Gottsagen, was an active member on the Florida Independent Living Council. She exposed her son to an array of opportunities for inclusion, including VR services. His counselor Shanqua Sims-Brown was very experienced and helped him at the Boca Raton office. When he started receiving services, she would always listen to him, paid attention to what interested him and was able to secure him with paid On-the-Job Training (OJT) at a local theater. The OJT experience was set to go up to six months;however, after only two weeks, the manager wanted him on permanently. Zack reminisces about his experience there and how his manager was always proud and supportive of him. Other opportunities included at the age of 18 performing in a play called Artie. The director admitted that he originally thought there would be too many obstacles for Zack and had reservations about hiring a person with a disability to perform in the play. He was worried Zack would not be able to retain all the lines. Not only did Zack memorize his own lines but the lines of the other performers. The director said that meeting Zack not only changed his mind about the abilities of people with disabilities but also changed his life.
Zack also attended an inclusion acting camp called Zeno Mountain Farms in Venice, California. He starred in a movie called Bullet Proof Jackson where he played the villain. He remembers talking with friends about their lives and dreams. He shared his dream of becoming an actor. They told him that there really is not a lot of desire in Hollywood for actors with Down syndrome. Zack response to this was, “Well, then we need to make our own movie,” and sell it to Hollywood. Zack developed the title and concept of the film The Peanut Butter Falcon. It took two years but was picked up by Roadside Attractions.
The movie is described as a Mark Twain-style story of an unlikely friendship between the character that Zack played and Tyler, an outlaw on the run played by Shia LaBeouf. There have been premieres for the film from Los Angeles to London with box office success. Zack’s advice to future actors, “Stay in school, study a lot, perform in plays and do not be afraid of auditions,” and to simply “Dream BIG.”
Kaymen Jaggar: Horticulture
Kaymen Jagger, a young man on the autism spectrum, has felt that his disability has affected him in a number of ways, especially when interacting with others. Before receiving VR services, he dealt with a lot of frustration, anger issues, trouble concentrating and an inability to stay focused. His father, Matthew Jagger, was already aware about VR services so when Kaymen was ready to get a job, they began researching local VR offices to begin the process of becoming a customer.
Before VR, he had a lot of meltdowns due to his anger issues and was unemployed. VR helped him with not only finding work, but also discovering new interests, such as providing customer service and a passion for working with plants. Kaymen says VR services are indispensable including counseling services through vendors. VR helped him gain self-esteem and showed him that he had what it takes to get a job. Through these services, he was able to interview for Lowe’s Hardware in Ocala and was hired on the spot. A year ago, he said that he “could not have imagined working even one day, and now he has held a job for four months and loves it.” Everyone at Lowe’s, customers and coworkers, speak so highly of him and tell him how much he brightens up their day.
Kaymen says that VR changed his outlook on what was possible for him. He said, “My counselor always returned my calls and believed in my abilities. Through her encouragement, she helped me recognize my potential.” Kaymen’s professional ambition includes utilizing VR services to go back to school to learn more about horticulture. His goal is to become independent enough to be self-sufficient and no longer need financial assistance.
During his free time, Kaymen likes to play video games and really enjoys interacting with animals. He and his father also do a lot of volunteer work. Both his father and he agreed that self-advocacy was key when it came to seeking employment. In Kaymen’s words: “VR can help you, but you have to put in your own work,” and that you need to “be your own advocate,” and to quote Yoda, “Do or do not, there is no try.” This iconic movie quote has inspired both to never stop moving forward.
Jeffrey Laverty: HVAC Service Tech
Jeffrey Laverty was born profoundly Deaf. He did not say his first words until he was almost three years old, when he got his first hearing aids. He learned American Sign Language but then he stopped speaking again. His parents kept looking for ways to help and when he was 11 years old he received his first cochlear implant. “I started hearing a lot of new sounds, and it changed my life.” Jeffrey says. He now has cochlear implants in both ears, and his life has changed again. Fast forward and Jeffrey is married with a family and started a new career thanks to the assistance of VR. Jeffrey worked with VR Counselor Jennifer McCarroll to decide on his career path and which services he needed to reach his goal. First, VR paid for his tuition and books so he could train in heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC). “I went to Lively Technical School for the training, and I fell in love with the job doing duct work,” Jeffrey says. VR also bought waterproof processors for his cochlear implants because of the nature of the job, working outside in the heat and humidity of north Florida.
Jeffrey works for Benson’s Heating & Air Conditioning Inc. as an air duct crew member specializing in cleaning duct work in established buildings and designing the duct layout for new construction. He is enthusiastic about his job. “My job is to do the duct work; the duct cleaning and duct change out. I have a lot of experience doing the job, and am still learning a lot. I love my job.” His supervisor Sherry Culpepper Barner says that working with someone who has a disability has been a good experience for them. They had never hired someone who was Deaf, so it was a new situation for them. “I think we have overcome any challenges that have arisen,” she says. “Jeffrey is a great worker. We enjoy having him here.” When asked about accommodations for Jeffrey, Sherry explains, “As far as accommodations go, we just talk and text. He had an interpreter for three months who went with him to all of the jobs and that helped. He also has an interpreter at company meetings because it is difficult to hear with all of the people here. This also ensures that he does not miss anything what is being said.” This was the first time Benson’s had worked with VR. “I would say it is a positive thing to do if you have the capabilities to do it,” says General Manager Daniel Boyette. “We do not see Jeffery as someone with a disability.”
Mariano “Nuni” Lebron: Sales Associate
Got a plumbing question? See Nuni. Want to know what that ‘thingamajig’ in the toilet is for and why it is still running? See Nuni. Have you been to the Holiday Home Depot lately? You have probably seen Nuni. After working at Home Depot for nearly 20 years, Mariano “Nuni” Lebron has a long list of pros and Do-It-Yourselfers who count on his expertise every day, but he began having severe back pain, and his world started spiraling downward. Nuni was born with cerebral palsy and has always used a wheelchair. He lives with back pain daily, but this was extreme and causing him to become depressed and despondent. He also had sores from the wheelchair. He heard about VR and decided to try it.
He met with VR Counselor Andrea Bennett. They talked about getting him a new chair that would work better for his requirements. “I was considering giving up working, but she told me not to give up. I had been working a long time, and I should try to keep doing it,” says Nuni. Andrea sent him to counseling for his depression, and that went very well. He also had an MRI where they discovered that spondylosis and degenerative disk disorder, along with his CP, was causing the additional pain. So, he met with a University of South Florida rehab technician to figure out the exact chair he needed to keep his life and career going smoothly.
“He said, ‘You will need a power seat, and the back should totally lay down,’ and because I work at Home Depot and sometimes needed to reach something higher, it also needed an elevated seat,” explains Nuni.
Nuni is back on the job, winning employee awards with Home Depot and answering any plumbing questions that come his way. He says he still has some back pain, but nothing like he was experiencing earlier. His depression is under control, and things are looking brighter with his new wheelchair. Store Manager Rian Meyers is glad everything worked out for Nuni. “He is extremely valuable to us at the store,” he says. “He has a huge following, and his knowledge base in the plumbing department is so deep that we all lean on him at times. He is also getting close to earning a Diamond Homer Award, which is very rare.” Home Depot is well known for being an inclusive employer and has been honored by VR before. Rian has worked with many different employees with disabilities during his career at Home Depot and shares, “They are fantastically committed and loyal employees, and they are inspiring for those of us who do not face that challenge.”
When asked about Andrea, he says, “You are lucky to have her. She helped me keep my head together and keep going. I was basically ready to throw in the towel, but she had me keep going. She said she was only a phone call or an email away. Do not hesitate to call.”
Andre Lewis: Entrepreneur
When Andre Lewis was 19 years old, he was injured by a gunshot from a neighborhood child. He was paralyzed from the shoulders down. He does not have the use of his upper and lower extremities. He is a C4-quadraplegic and needs total care. Andre uses a motorized wheelchair with a sip-n-puff system that gives him limited mobility. He has an accessible vehicle that has a power ramp and locking system for his wheelchair, although he still needs someone to drive him. He requires help with daily life functions (e.g., getting dressed, bathing, eating and meal preparation). Andre did not have a degree or any technical skills to get a job.
Then, Andre met Jeffrey Daniels who told him about VR services. He decided to apply for services. Andre went to high school on his own, and VR enrolled him into the Lindsey Hopkins Technical Education Center where he studied accounting and microcomputers for two years. During this time, VR paid for transportation, his wheelchair, tuition, activity fees and educational materials. After graduation, he worked four-and-a-half years in downtown Miami as an editor and outreach coordinator. For two more years Andre worked from home for Willow CSN. Then, he decided to go into business for himself.
Serving others is what made Andre reassess his job goal and get into the home health care business. He has been receiving home health services since 1989. He saw the operations of home health care from a patient’s point of view and felt that he could do a better job. When agencies sent caregivers into his home, he felt they did not fully understand how to provide services for someone needing total care. Andre and his mother, Lorna Ferguson-Facey, decided to open their own agency, ATL Home Health Corp. VR was instrumental in getting his business off the ground by funding start-up costs and hiring a business consultant. VR had previously paid for home setup when he worked with Willow. He had a telephone for outbound calls, materials, a home stick and a page holder among other accessibility features that allowed him to be as self-sufficient as possible while working. Other accommodations included a power desk, stick holder and mouse, and an automatic door opener.
Andre’s ultimate goal is to open an assisted living facility for individuals with spinal cord injuries. “The key to success is understanding VR services and getting the right VR counselor who supports and believes in what the outcome of your life can be,” said Andre.
Sara Lundy: First Valedictorian
Sara Lundy is the first valedictorian with autism to graduate from the Pepin Academies Riverview in Tampa. The word valedictorian is derived from the Latin vale dice re which means “to say goodbye.”
As valedictorian she was tasked to deliver the final speech at the graduation ceremony, but Sara has a fear of public speaking. With her VR counselor and mother’s help, she delivered an empowering speech where her personality shined. Embarking on her next chapter, she has been accepted into several college programs and says that VR really helped her to “tackle trying to go to college.” She heard about VR through her brother, who received services for his ADHD. Eventually, she decided to also become a customer.
Sara feels that VR has helped her learn how to socialize more, communicate easier with others, gain more confidence and realize her strengths. She knows she has the potential to do anything and everything, and welcomes her future with humility.
Sara plans to study to become a VR case manager so that she can inspire others with her real-life insight on what it is like to be a person with a disability, what it takes to transition, and progress through life.
She is currently on hiatus from looking for employment as she is focusing on going to college. However, she had previously worked at Sweeties Cat House, a cat sitting and hotel business. She was a member of their cleaning staff and feels it was a very rewarding experience. In her free time, she enjoys reading and crocheting. Sara is a truly motivated young woman and believes that, “As long as you have the proper support and the will to do it—you can do anything.”
Ashley McGrath: Author
When Ashley McGrath was only three months old, doctors told her parents that she may not live to see her first birthday. She was born with a genetic condition, campomelic syndrome, that causes serious bone abnormalities and weak muscles, and the doctors believed that it would create serious limitations even if she did survive. Almost 30 years have passed since then, and Ashley has accomplished more than they could have thought possible. She has a graduate degree, a job, and a published autobiography—and she owes it all to her own determination and a little help from VR.
Ashley first came to VR in 2003 when she was a senior in high school beginning to think about her plans after graduation. She wanted to attend college, so she met with VR Counselor Karen Johnson to help achieve this goal. During her time in college, VR provided a hearing-aid system to ensure she would be able to participate fully in all of her classes. The assistance paid off—after years of hard work, Ashley earned her master’s from the UCF in 2010. After she graduated, she returned to her counselor for help finding a job. In 2014, she found the perfect position as a quality analyst at a call monitoring company, J. Lodge. “You have probably called a company to speak with a sales representative and heard someone say, ‘This call is being monitored for quality purposes,’” Ashley says. “As a quality analyst, I monitor calls. I evaluate the sales agents’ interactions with customers and make sure they are doing their job properly.” Quality analyst is not Ashley’s only job title; she is also a published author with her autobiography, UnabASHed by Disability. “It describes my childhood as an individual with physical disabilities,” Ashley explains. “Despite its description of my challenges, my book is of an inspirational nature. Writing it was very rewarding.” Ashley has also shared her life’s experiences at the “Start with the End in Mind” Transition Planning Conference at Viera High School. “I spoke about how children with disabilities can overcome their limitations to lead productive lives,” says Ashley. “My presentation focused on how I completed high school and then college before becoming employed.”
With so much on her schedule, Ashley is busy but she has no plans of slowing down. In the future, she hopes to continue working while pursuing additional speaking engagements and writing a children’s book dealing with special needs. Ashley is grateful for the opportunity to prove herself on the job. She believes that others with disabilities can also achieve success at work. “Employers should give people with disabilities a chance,” says Ashley. “They are motivated to work and therefore would be diligent and loyal employees.”
Juan Carlos Morales: Psychologist
Juan Carlos Morales was told by doctors that he would not live past his teenage years. But Juan, who has Muscular Dystrophy, proved them all wrong. He has a thriving career as a psychologist working with at-risk teenagers. “Life has a purpose and I need to fulfill mine,” he said.
Juan was referred to VR when he was a senior in high school. He met with VR Counselor Julie Emerson, who helped him plan for his future. Having dreamed of becoming a rap artist since high school, VR paid Juan’s tuition to Broward Community College so he could train as a recording engineer. Along the way, he changed his mind and decided his long-term goal was to help others. He transferred to FIU where, with help from VR, he completed his bachelor’s in Psychology. He continued at FIU on his own dime and received his master’s in Counseling Psychology. Juan was honored to be nominated by the president of FIU as a “Worlds Ahead Graduate” which is presented for outstanding achievement and great dreams for the future.
It was during an internship for school that Juan first worked with adolescents and discovered that he loved the way they opened up to him. He knew it was where he belonged. Juan works at the Regis House, a CARF-accredited facility that works with at-risk teenagers with drug and behavioral problems. He provides group and individual therapy, and also prepares reports for court hearings. “I love it and want to do more of it,” Juan said. “I feel that life has guided me here.”
Juan is a private life coach. Most of his customers are adolescents and recommended by word of mouth. He also serves as the local ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and makes an appearance each year during their annual telethon. In his spare time, he attends numerous events and is a motivational speaker to firefighters. He balances his work and social life well, all while maintaining a positive attitude. He is also a devoted Miami Heat fan.
VR provided Juan with support for his bachelor’s degree and vehicle modifications. Without the support of VR and his counselor, he would not be where he is today. “Julie is an awesome angel who makes things work out,” he said. Learn more at liveorletdiepsychology.com.
James River: Welder
James Rivers has been successfully employed as a welder at MC Ventures Truck Bodies in LaBelle since March 2016. His success began when James was in high school and worked with Employment Specialist Diane Johnsonan under the Third-Party Cooperative Arrangement. Diane recalled that James was her first customer and he knew what he wanted to do for his vocational goal. “Working with him was well worth the effort because he is successful and is an example for others who may believe they cannot achieve their goals in life,” said Diane.
While James has processing problems and specific learning disabilities, he never allowed this to discourage him from following his dream. He worked hard to pass the Test for Adult Basic Education (TABE), and entered Immokalee Technical College in 2014.
Although there were challenges he had to face, he never gave up on trying to complete his goal. His family could not be prouder, and he is the first person in his family to attend and graduate from college. James earned his Auto Tech certificate, and parlayed that education into the field of welding, where he has found nothing short of success. He is the perfect example of the hard work and dedication it can take for our customers to face the challenges that may arise in their pursuit of employment and independence.
Former VR Counselor Victoria Aguilar shared her praise for him by saying, “James was a perfect VR customer. With the help of his family, who was always there to support him, James followed up with everything he needed to do to support reaching his goal.” MC Ventures owner Michael Cox said, “James is a great, dedicated worker who I am happy to have on my team.”
In March 2018, with a team of strong supporters by his side, James accepted the Commissioner’s Leadership Award presented by FDOE Commissioner Pam Stewart and the State Board of Education at the same high school from which he graduated years earlier. The Leadership Award is for students K-12, adults and technical school students who have overcome hardships in order to succeed. The individuals receiving these awards have excelled despite the hurdles, hardships and circumstances beyond their control. James has truly proven that hard work and determination make dreams come true.
Julie Seals: Motivational Speaker
Julie Seals had to hit rock bottom before she decided to take control and do something with her life. Due to severe neurological complications resulting from being born with Spina bifida, Julie endured 12 surgeries, developed gangrene, and had to have her left leg amputated below the knee. And she did not deal with it very well. “I masked the pain with alcohol, pills and drugs; and became addicted for 17 long, horrific years. Finally, in 2001, I ended up in prison on a drug charge and decided I would turn my life around. It was the best thing that ever could have happened to me.”
After a move from California to Florida, Julie came to VR for help in becoming employed. VR helps people with disabilities get or keep a job. Julie had tried a couple jobs when she was younger, but they did not work out because of her medical issues. Julie met with VR Counselor Brandi Nieves. They discussed her career choices. Julie wanted to help others clean up their lives and become healthier. She started working toward her bachelor’s degree in health science at the University of North Florida. VR helped with tuition and books.
While in school, a professor introduced her to the Tobacco Program Manager at Northeast Florida Area Health Education Center (AHEC). By the time they finished lunch, Julie had been offered a job as a Quit Smoking Now facilitator. A year later, she was a fulltime independent contractor with the tobacco program. Julie not only worked full time, she did it while finishing up her bachelor’s degree and graduated summa cum laude with top honors. When she graduated, her boss told her that if she could become a certified wellness coach, she could promote her to that position. VR paid for the additional training, and Julie became the Corporate Wellness Program Manager and Rural Site Coordinator for Northeast Florida AHEC.
“I manage the corporate wellness program,” says Julie. “I design and create wellness curriculum and workshops, and I am an educational/motivational speaker and presenter specializing in helping people create their own culture of wellness and achieve their dreams. I also place medical students and doctors into rural clinic rotations to improve health in rural areas. Our mission is to improve health in underserved populations. Julie enjoys her job and is thriving in her career. “I love working. I like that I am able to use all the skills that I got while working toward my degree in real life. And I have the freedom to do new things.”
Brandi is excited about how well Julie is doing with her new career. “She has the personality that is an asset for any company. She is the most uplifting positive person I have ever met. She does not accept road blocks. Over, under or around, she will find a way. She is the most motivated, honest person.”
VR’s headquarter staff learned this first hand when Julie made a presentation at an annual training day. Her presentation titled “THRIVE: Creating a Culture of Wellness and Achieving Your Dreams” was inspiring as she used her life story to explain why eating and being healthy is so important. Julie is thankful for both Brandi and the help from VR. “Brandi has been wonderful and my experience with VR has made all the difference in the world. They have been supportive and caring. I would not have been able to get my degree or be where I am without VR’s assistance. I am incredibly grateful that there are organizations like VR that make a way for people like me who have a disability to get an education—so they can get out in the world, become more productive and make the world a better place.”
Nolan Vance: Discovers His Potential
Nolan Vance learned about Discover Your Potential (DYP) program through a referral from Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Autism Related Disabilities (CARD). He suffered from bouts of depression and anxiety, and did not socialize with his peers. Nolan hoped that DYP would help him obtain a busy working schedule, get out of the house, be around his peers, and earn a steady income. Nolan’s largest barrier was his self defeating attitude. While Nolan wanted to lead a more fulfilling life and be independent, he did not believe it was possible to achieve his goals. The DYP team saw Nolan’s potential and understood the importance of addressing his defeatist attitude.
The DYP team worked with Nolan to instill positive thought in his daily life. Nolan attended SUCCESS classes and learned about basics work skills (e.g., dependability, job retention, self-presentation, motivation and attitude). Nolan also attended social activities where he began to find a community of peers and friends.
Nolan expressed that he wanted to work with his hands. He was interested in the agricultural industry, and he was not afraid of a hard day’s work. Through DYP, Nolan received an opportunity to participate in a 12 week on-the-job training (OJT) experience at Brown Family Farm in Ft. Pierce, which is an organic produce farm with a small market. Once Nolan started working, he really hit the ground running. Nolan’s work ethic astounded the DYP team. Job Coach Kimberly Halhober worked closely with Nolan during his OJT. She visited him at work often and ensured that communications between him and his supervisor were running smoothly. Every time she visited, Nolan was asked to say one positive thing about himself or his life. She noticed that his smile would shine as bright as the sun when he spoke positively about himself.
Once the OJT ended, the DYP team spoke with Nolan about job placement. They set him up with an interview for a full-time position at the CVS Distribution Center. After a successful interview, Nolan accepted the job. Nolan works full-time and has developed connections with his coworkers. He also has formed friendships with a few of his peers from the DYP. They have gone out to dinner, bowling and the movies. Nolan continues to blossom and looks towards the future in a more positive light. Nolan says, “I was impressed on how fast I was placed for employment. I was taken to different small businesses to get a feel for how different companies work. My case manager and job coach would often check up on me at my job. I am very grateful for the DYP program.” Nolan is currently studying to obtain his driver’s license and is saving money for a car.
Paul Voegerl: Dive Instructor
Paul Voegerl feels right at home on the water. Whether it is diving, swimming or sailing, he enjoys being around the ocean. “When I am in the water I can move around and have full range of motion,” Paul says. He gets to do what he loves as a dive instructor at Aquatic Obsessions, but it would not have been possible without a little help. As a disabled combat veteran, Paul knew he may have trouble finding a job, so he turned to VR for guidance. Paul met with VR Counselor Greg Devine to decide which direction he should take his career. “It was really great working with Greg. I walked into his office, and he asked what he could do to help me,” Paul says. “He was very positive about everything, and he helped me look at what I can do.”
Greg and Paul agreed that being a dive instructor was the perfect professional path. VR was able to assist Paul financially to make that goal a reality. “VR paid for training to be a diving instructor, which included multiple steps,” Greg says. “The training also included a number of dives that he had to take. We were also able to purchase the equipment he needed for the job.”
Paul’s favorite part of his job are the people he instructs. “You introduce them into a new world—a completely different universe,” he says. “People who have never dove before go down and see a whole new life, firsthand. They see plants, rocks and ships. It has a major impact on their life seeing it for the first time. Offering people that opportunity is wonderful.”
He also likes to show other people who are disabled the freedom water can provide. “When you have disabilities and go into the water, you are weightless,” Paul says. “One time, we had a veteran who lost an arm in an explosion go diving, and he felt whole again.”
Paul and his wife dream of opening their own one-stop-shop diving service. “We are looking into my wife becoming a captain, so I could do private lessons,” he says. “It is a future goal of ours.” Greg is very proud of everything Paul is doing. “He always had an interest in the water,” Greg says. “Perseverance and desire to be able to take care of his family and himself has led to his success.”
Paul has found a job that is perfectly suited to his strengths and abilities at Aquatic Obsessions. He is glad his employer gave him a chance, and encourages others to do the same. “I would like to tell employers not to judge people by their disability, because you never know what they will bring to the table.”
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The Florida Department of Education, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) is an equal opportunity employer. It is against the law for VR as a recipient of Federal financial assistance to discriminate against any individual in the United States on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, political affiliation or belief. The application process used by VR to determine eligibility for services, any subsequent services and the entire VR process are subject to these non-discrimination requirements. Auxiliary aids and services are available upon request to individuals with disabilities. VR program receives 78.7 percent of its funding through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. For the 2022 Federal fiscal year, the total amount of grant funds awarded were $176,521,122. The remaining 21.3 percent of the costs ($47,775,094) were funded by Florida State Appropriations. Revised October 2022.