Taylor, Academy Graduate
Since graduating from The Learning Academy, I have been working at Publix Supermarkets as a bagger, and attending PHSC to eventually obtain an AA degree. I was taking life easy for the most part, relaxing every chance I got, but not forgetting I had goals to accomplish. I have published a book called The Spark, which is the first part of a series known as The Phantasy Series. My mentor and I have become good friends and I even managed to gain one of my best friends from The Learning Academy, who I still talk to today.
At present, I’m hard at work on my second, third, and prequel books. I have been self-advocating at PHSC, where I am currently taking five classes. I have been working on my own website to promote my book series and I’ve even gone to a 3D printing company so they can make a 3D printed statue of the main character in my book. I still work at Publix, although not as much due to my heavy class load. I have also been relaxing every chance I get, as I believe too much stress can make me too tired to work on my goals.
In the near future, I am going to see a friend of mine in another state and experience another part of the country. Speaking of traveling, I also have a trip to Japan coming up in the summer so I can experience another part of the world, which is exciting. I plan to do a few presentations of my books at The Learning Academy graduation ceremony in the year of 2017 as well as at PHSC. Attending some conventions to sell my book is also on my agenda. Finally, when I am done with my AA, I want to go to USF to get a Bachelor’s degree in film as well as a teaching degree for English. Ahead of that, we will just have to see.
Daniel, Academy Graduate
Dan Snyder has been busy working hard at his own future. While attending TLA, Dan interned at Ukulele Brands, a very unique restaurant in Land O’ Lakes, which combines great service with live music nights multiple times a week. Ukulele Brands was so impressed with what they saw from Dan that they decided to hire him, and he’s still working there to this day. This is a great opportunity for Dan, since his career goals include both the music and food industries. He is an avid music fan, and even plays several instruments, including the guitar. Additionally, he is currently attending Hillsborough Community College majoring in Culinary Management. Here is what Dan has to say about his experiences at TLA and Ukulele Brands.
Q: What skills that you learned in TLA have helped you in this job?
A: The biggest thing for me was learning how to be professional. I also discovered my affinity for jobs that let me use my hands, and allow me to socialize with the customers and my fellow employees.
Q: Has the experience of working here helped you prepare for future employment opportunities?
A: Yes it has. It’s helped me prepare to deal with many different kinds of customers and how to fit their needs when they come into a restaurant like Ukulele Brands. Working in a restaurant lets me experience many different things, for example, working with the customer so they have an amazing experience, working well as a team in a high volume restaurant, working with the other employees to help them serve their tables and much more. It also showed me that this is what I love; seeing people happy and having an amazing dinner experience. It can get hectic sometimes but we manage to get it together. Ukulele Brands has had the biggest impact on my life. It also helped me learn things that I probably never would have learned if I wasn’t there. Now I have an excellent addition to my résumé.
Q: Describe the responsibilities you've been given at Ukulele Brands.
A: The responsibilities I have include helping bus tables, running the tasty food to the tables, helping to seat tables as the host, and occasionally I act as a server. I also help the servers bring stuff to customers’ tables like boxes for food, drinks, food, utensils, napkins, and whatever else fits the circumstance.
Q: Is working in the food and/or music industry something you want to do as a career? If so, has Ukulele’s helped you realize that?
A: One day I want to open up a restaurant with a music venue that can hold enough people to have touring bands, DJs, rappers and more. While I am still young, I also want to have some time in the music industry in a band, possibly hardcore or punk rock. So yes, I want to have a career in the food and music industry at some point. Ukulele definitely helped me realize this, especially when they have different performers come five days a week. My favorite comes on Wednesday nights, with the house band Nune’s at Night, playing anywhere from Jimmy Buffet to “Stuck in the Middle with You”. I enjoy listening to the music as well as working hard and hustling to have an amazing atmosphere for the customers. My main goal when I open up a restaurant or start a band is to inspire young people to learn an instrument or open up a restaurant of their own one day.
Izzy, Academy Graduate
One of TLA Employment Service’s greatest triumphs has been with Izzy, who for two years has been holding down a job with CampusDish at USF, an Aramark subsidiary. Aramark, founded in 1959, is one of the largest foodservice providers in the world, and they have had nothing but positive things to say about Izzy.
Izzy was one of the first graduates of TLA, and she has truly carved out a place for herself in the world since then. Her coworkers have been very supportive from the beginning, and they describe her as being like a part of the family.
From a young age, Izzy always dreamed of trying her hand at baking cookies, and through years of hard work and persistence, proving her competence and indomitable work ethic along the way, she was finally given the chance to start doing so at CampusDish. She could not be happier, and her supervisor, Dennis, was honored to give Izzy the opportunity.
‘Hard working’, easy to get along with’, ‘passionate about everything she does’; these are just some of the compliments given by Dennis about Izzy.
Izzy’s story is just one of many that show how people on the spectrum can not only excel at their jobs, but leave a positive impact on everyone they work with.
Gage Sosso, Academy Graduate
I would like to preface this by saying that my journey is nowhere near complete, but I wanted to share with you all my experience thus far dealing with ASD, how it has affected me personally, how I overcome it, and my plans for the future.
I didn’t discover that I had ASD (Asperger’s to be more specific) until relatively late in life; I was almost 16 by the time I was diagnosed, and once we read the symptoms, everything became a lot clearer for both myself and my family. We had a name for my quirks and habits that before were always attributed to mere shyness or laziness.
But for awhile, even after the diagnosis, things did not improve. My parents didn’t really know how to adapt to now having a son with ASD, and I was unwilling to change my ways after 16 years of emotional immaturity. However, I still managed to make it through the rollercoaster ride that was high school, graduate with a 3.9 GPA, and receive multiple scholarships.
Then Duquesne happened.
After high school, I decided I wanted to return to my hometown of Pittsburgh and attend Duquesne University, where I had received a $28,000/year scholarship and several federal grants. Things were certainly looking up… then everything came crashing down. I quickly realized that I was nowhere near ready for independent living and I shut down. I didn’t attend class, lied to my family about it, and was downright miserable. It was definitely the lowest point of my entire life.
When I returned home to Florida during winter break, I confessed every thing, and my family was certainly upset, but we worked through it, got me some much needed help, and eventually discovered The Learning Academy at USF. Suffice it to say that I have grown and improved immensely since attending this program, and for the first time my future is looking truly bright. I have found purpose, which is a wonderful thing.
In the past few months alone, I’ve accomplished more than I had in the previous 19 years combined, at least in terms of realizing my strengths and passions. I’ve discovered my inherent disposition towards writing, and have now decided to pursue writing and/or editing as my future career. Something I’m really good at. Something that I genuinely enjoy doing. Something that, for a long time, I thought was never going to happen. I no longer see ASD as a bad thing, or as a crutch, but as a part of me; something that makes me special and stand out from the crowd.
The friendly, accepting atmosphere, the practical assignments, being treated as an equal, large amounts of soul-searching; at TLA, all these things and more have been partially responsible for more transformation into a better, more independent person, and for that, I could not be more thankful.
Breanne, Academy Graduate
Breanne attended the Learning Academy at USF and completed an internship with a program that trains service dogs for individuals with disabilities. It was here that she discovered her passion for working with animals and decided to follow that dream and become a dog groomer. Breanne never let go of her dream while she worked at numerous other jobs to gain additional skills, fill the time and earn some money. She became a student mentor for the Learning Academy to help other students reach their goals. Finally, after countless hours of research, applications, and interviews, Breanne was offered a grooming job. We are so proud of her persistence and determination, as she travels her path to success.
Andrew Casey, Academy Graduate
Andrew Casey has a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome. His love of computers and technology influences his definition of autism. Casey says autism like having a “glitch” in computer software. “I stare off into space at least a dozen times a day,” Casey says. “For me personally, having autism is sort of having a glitch in the system. It’s not lethal. It’s just a minor hiccup.”
As part of his Academy curriculum, Andrew interned at WUSF, at the USF Tampa Campus. His resulting internship project is a testament to the success he has achieved. Andrew co-produced the radio segment "Autism Defined by those with the Diagnosis."Listen to Andrew's story on WUSF News.