Exemplary Employees

Marketing Student Makes Moves In Media Industry

Valerie Baker

Valerie claimed her independence to establish continued success with tools she gained at the Youth Leadership Forum

Valerie Baker is building momentum. As a senior studying marketing at Florida Gulf Coast University, Valerie is gaining valuable training and experience in media, recently completing a public relations internship with Shriners Hospitals for Children — Tampa. With aspirations of working for Disney’s marketing team, it’s clear that she’s on track to launch her career in the media industry.

“You’re either moving forward or you’re moving backward. There is no staying constant,” said Valerie.

Valerie is certainly finding ways to move forward, in spite of arthrogryposis, a condition that limits her mobility. Arthrogryposis is rare condition described by joint deformations and joint contractures and it affects almost every joint in Valerie’s body.

Valerie found the empowerment she needed to propel herself forth with the skills she learned at the Florida Youth Leadership Forum (YLF). YLF is a weeklong leadership-training program hosted by The Able Trust designed to teach students with a wide range of disabilities about personal leadership through workshops, social activities and mentoring opportunities.

“YLF has given me the chance to better myself,” said Valerie. “It made me much more outgoing and independent. I believe that YLF helped me become the person I am today, and it helped me make the choice to live away from home for college.”

For any student, especially students with a disability, choosing to move away from home for college can be challenging, but Valerie was determined to establish her independence. Her first move was leaving her native Tampa, Florida to attend Florida Gulf Coast in Fort Myers.

“My hope is to inspire future generations to be independent and go to college like me,” said Valerie. “I want to help others.”

Helping others is exactly why she interned at Shriners. Valerie is a disability advocate, and she strives to improve the lives of people with disabilities. For Valerie, working at the hospital was a particularly poignant experience because until the age of 18, she was a patient at Shriners.

Valerie’s transition from patient to employee shifted her perspective, allowing her to better serve the patients she worked with. She said the most rewarding part of the job was interacting with patients to share her example of experience and success.

“I really like being able to share my story and help others who are going through the same thing,” said Valerie.

Cape Coral Student Committed To Education


The lesson that Shevie Barnes learned at the Youth Leadership Forum propelled her into a career in education

Shavaughn “Shevie” Barnes says that encouraging other students with disabilities is a big part of her job as an educator.

“I tell them to focus on the things they are capable of,” Shevie says. “I say that because people with disabilities are very capable of doing many things.”

Shevie should know. Her dedication to students with disabilities stems in part from the fact that she herself is a student with a disability. Shevie has cerebral palsy, a neurologic condition that affects body movement and muscle coordination.

Shevie discovered her love of helping students with disabilities through her experiences at the Florida Youth Leadership Forum (YLF). YLF is a week-long leadership training program hosted by The Able Trust and designed to teach students with a wide range of disabilities about personal leadership through workshops, social activities and mentoring opportunities.

“One of the most memorable experiences I’ve had as a YLF mentor is serving as a small group facilitator,” Shevie says. “That one experience is what made me want to be a teacher.”

The opportunity to serve as a facilitator encouraged Shevie to apply for and land her first job teaching students with disabilities at Beautiful Mind and Soul Leadership Academy in Jacksonville, Florida.

“Working with children of different ages and learning styles is very difficult, but I really enjoy doing things that are challenging,” she says.

Shevie says the most rewarding part of her job is when she sees students graduate.

She graduated from Florida State College in Jacksonville with an associate degree in Education. She is currently attending Western Governors University online majoring in Special Education. While attending school, Shevie volunteers as a motivational speaker on how to overcome obstacles. In her free time she enjoys reading, writing, singing and learning sign language.

Shevie’s future goal is to own her own school where she can teach students with disabilities. Considering all of the things she has accomplished in such a short amount of time, it’s safe to say that this remarkable young woman will succeed.

Jacksonville Computer Whiz Pursuing High-Tech Field

Anthony La Cava

Anthony La Cava Recognizes His Disability as the Impetus for a Successful Career in Information Technology

Working with computers came naturally to Anthony La Cava. Living with Attention Deficit Disorder that causes him impaired hand-eye coordination, Anthony struggled with poor handwriting early on in school. As a result, he learned how to work on and fix computers by utilizing technical support services. From this, he developed a passion for computers and is pursuing a career in Information Technology.

“I actually got into computers because of my disability,” Anthony says. “They really didn’t have good tech support in the ‘90s when I was going through school. I had to learn my own tech support.”

Anthony received his associate’s degree from Broward College in network administration and is now employed as a network administrator at Florida State College of Jacksonville (FSCJ) where he is working toward his bachelor’s degree in IT management at the same time.

For Anthony, a day as a network administrator at FSCJ entails setting up new programs, ensuring the servers are functioning properly and troubleshooting technical issues that campus employees may have with their systems.

“Anthony has been an excellent employee; he is very motivated to take on new responsibilities and projects,” said Pete Snell, a network engineer for FSCJ and a supervisor of Anthony’s. “He is very knowledgeable in his area of technology, and if he doesn’t know or understand something, you can bet he will take the time to learn it.”

Anthony’s goal is to work his way up to a vice president or Chief Information Officer in the IT department at FSCJ. He also hoped to start his own side business, which is a recent dream come true.

His current endeavor is La Cava Technology Solutions where he is the acting “Chief Executive Geek.” He uses his computer skills to provide technical support to homes and businesses on Mac and Windows devices.

In addition to his disability, Anthony also credits his career success to an internship he had during his high school years.

“The funny thing is, in high school, I had two ways to go,” he says. “I really wanted to get into childcare or be a teacher or get into IT. And I got an internship with the IT department at my school, so I ended up going that route.”

Even so, Anthony still makes the effort to interact with young people. A year 2000 alum of The Able Trust’s Youth Leadership Forum (YLF) – an annual event designed to teach Florida students with disabilities about personal leadership through workshops, social activities and mentoring opportunities – Anthony has returned as a mentor to help other students with disabilities take charge of their career path.

“I’ve learned to advocate for myself. Advocate for other people to help them out,” he says. “The kids: They’re so much fun. Seeing them grow from starting out very quiet. A lot of them come out of their shells by the end.”

Orlando Native with a Disability Pays It Forward to Job Seekers Nationwide

Mervin Hernandez

Mervin Hernandez Credits His Successful Career to Professional Development for Students with Disabilities

In his day job as a New York City financial services recruiter for corporations and banks, Mervin Hernandez has successfully transformed his personal opportunities into professional passion.

Working at Intermedia Group, a human resources management firm, since 2011, Mervin relishes the task of assisting people in their job search.

“I get to help people find jobs and to learn about positions and titles for great companies,” he says.

Living with albinism and a visual impairment that leaves him very near-sighted, Mervin has learned, above all else, to ask for accommodations when he needs them.

Utilizing simple, inexpensive assistive devices helps Mervin excel at Intermedia Group. He uses a mouse with programmable buttons; he programmed a magnifier to one and is able to zoom in on a resume or email swiftly and easily. The mouse saves Mervin a lot of effort in reading.

“Recruiting involves reading a lot of resumes efficiently,” Mervin says. “These tools keep me working efficiently, so though it is a long process sometimes to go through many applicants, fatigue doesn’t bother me as much as it would if I didn’t have these adjustments.”

These adjustments are so simple that Mervin’s employer barely notices them.

“I don’t view Merv as a person with disabilities any more than I would view another person who wears corrective lenses for better vision as disabled,” said Steve Fleischner, president of Intermedia Group and Mervin’s supervisor. “In fact, we have made no accommodations that I am aware of for Merv. Current off-the-shelf PCs have technology features built in to help people who are visually impaired.”

A veteran of The Able Trust’s Youth Leadership Forum (YLF) – an annual event designed to teach Florida students with disabilities about personal leadership through workshops, social activities and mentoring opportunities – Mervin first attended the week-long forum in 2004 as a student and has continued going back ever since as a mentor.

Many of the skills Mervin learned at YLF he utilizes every day at work, including time management, prioritization, multi-tasking and communication skills, which are essential for recruiting high-profile employees.

In fact, he credits an etiquette dinner at YLF to helping him find his career. At a National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation (NOAH) networking event, he put his table manners to use and met a control officer from his current company who remembered their encounter a year later and offered him the position as a financial services recruiter.

“I was really humbled to have made a good impression,” said Mervin. “I was pretty excited.”

Mervin’s success serves as an inspiration for job seekers with disabilities and as testimony to potential employers of the unique skills and abilities exhibited by workers with disabilities.

“I’m capable; I’m able to do everything,” Mervin says. “I’m confident; [my disability] is not a hindrance.”