Trailblazers Thriving at New Jobs

Three members now have paid employment, thanks largely to the vocational and life skills programs of the Trailblazer Academy. And those three are just the beginning.

Local businesses appreciate their contributions. The members are proud of their accomplishments and so is STARability. And the three Trailblazers function as community ambassadors who prove that there are places for people with disabilities in everyone’s lives. With all those positives, it’s more like a win-win-win situation.

“Our workers are talented and devoted,” said Madison McNally, program director for the Trailblazer Academy. “Our goal is to create true inclusion and a positive experience for both the participant and the businesses with whom we connect.”

Joe S. works one day a week at the Naples Art Association. When we visited, he continued working at a steady clip as we talked, stopping only to stand tall and smile when we asked to take his picture. Then he was back to work, going from room to room to empty trash. Earlier he had mopped floors. He likes both tasks, he said.

This year, he bought a LEGO Ford Mustang with some of his money. Most of it goes in the bank, but he does have his eye on the Martian Exploration Minifigure Pack from LEGO, too.

“I’m going to have to Order that,” he said. 

One of his coworkers told us we’d have to pay attention and keep up, because Joe is very focused.

“We adore him,” said Mary Visgilio, events coordinator for the Naples Art Association.

Shawn D. works two evenings a week for a few hours at Cosmos Ristorante & Pizzeria in Naples. He wraps silverware, greets customers and hands out menus.

“He’s a superstar,” said his manager, Juan Thompson. “Every little thing we might miss, he checks up on.” Shawn said he is saving his paychecks for a vacation.

Tori G. works a couple of hours a week at Air Bar Blowouts & Extensions in Naples.

“She loves it,” said her mom, Laura. With some of the money she’s earned, Tori recently bought an American Girl doll to add to her collection.

Parents of all three STAR employees said that these new members of the workforce look forward to going to their jobs and enjoy a great sense of accomplishment.

“We are proud of our members and what they achieve every day,” said Executive Director Karen Govern. “They have so much to contribute and we are eager to share their abilities and talents so that businesses and organizations can see how they can benefit from hiring a STAR member.”

The Trailblazer Academy began in September 2016 through the fundraising efforts of Carrie and John Cooney. It has been supported and expanded through grants from the Golisano Foundation, the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and most recently the Women’s Giving Circle, a fund of the Community Foundation of Collier County.

To join more than 20 businesses and organizations that are vocational partners with the Trailblazer Academy and/or to find out about hiring a member, please contact Madison McNally, at madison@ or 239.594.9007.