About the Disability Achievement Team
The Board and Management of the center have raised the bar and have recruited the best in the field to serve consumers in Pinellas and Pasco counties. The Disability Achievement Center seeks dedication, determination and expertise from those who join its team. Each person has personal as well as professional experience with disability. Many are living examples and mentors to the centers consumers of what people with disabilities can achieve.
Ashley Wheeler, Administrative Assistant
As an Administrative Assistant at the Disability Achievement Center Ashely started in September of 2013. She loves working with people and helping those in need. She has an Associate Degree in Business Administrative from Columbia, South Carolina and intends on continuing her education to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resources. She moved to Florida in June of 2013 and loves it. Her hobbies include: swimming, being on the beach, playing with her dog and reading.
Jennifer Hess, Independent Living Facilitator
Jenny is excited to be a part of Disability Achievement Center as an Independent Living Facilitator serving Pasco County consumers and Deaf and hard of hearing consumers in Pasco and Pinellas Counties.
In 1995 she earned her Bachelor’s of Arts in clinical/counseling psychology from Alfred University in upstate New York. After running a family style day care for 10 years she continued her education by enrolling in Cincinnati State Technical and Community College’s Interpreter Training Program, one of the first programs in this field. Upon moving she continued her Interpreting training at Columbus State Community College totaling over 2 years of interpreter training.
The last five years Jenny has spent with Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services of Florida, Inc. serving Deaf and hard of hearing individuals in Pasco and Hernando Counties. There she taught American Sign Language, provided community education, client services and employment services.
Jenny has volunteered her skills at Calvary Chapel Worship Center as an interpreter and leader for the Heavenly Hands Signing ministry.
She is happy to be working with such wonderful people and using her skills to support Disability Achievement Center’s mission.
Joann Patterson, Independent Living Facilitator
Joann obtained a Sign Language Interpretation degree from Hillsborough Community College During her studies she was able to coordinate the films for the Tampa International Deaf Film and Visual Arts Festival; collaborating with deaf film makers. She was able to have film makers/directors “Jade Byran” (first ever black deaf filmmaker) from NYC and Author Luhn, whom wrote and directed his first full length feature file “The Golden Legacy” in attendance for role models for the community. "She also was able to obtain artworks form MSD created by deaf children to present a gallery style viewing her in Tampa bay. Speaker Patti Durr, a film maker herself and a Professor at RIT in Rochester New York was willing to do a presentation on art history in the deaf community during the gallery showing. Joann enjoys art, so this was a highlight during her studies. She was a Tutor and Lab assistant to students and staff working under the work study program that was offered under Hillsborough community College. She feels the best experience of learning a unique language was working in the Lab with a 4th generation deaf professional as well as a deaf professional from Slovakia. “Learning a 3D language from a book doesn’t compare to the exposure of language experienced firsthand with two wonderful professionals!” During her internship at Tampa Bay Academy, she became employed there as a group advisor. She enjoyed working guiding children through the trials and tribulations of life. She spent 2 ½ years with the Tampa Bay Academy when she decided to return to interpreting and became the Divisional Director at the Deaf Service Bureau in Tampa. While employed at Deaf Service Bureau, Joann received a Service to Mankind Award from the Sertoma Club for her dedication to the deaf community. She recently served as a staff interpreter for the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. She noticed in working with Vocational Rehabilitation a need for employment facilitators who knew sign language and trained at Disability Achievement Center. Joann has always enjoyed giving individuals a vast array of opportunities through her volunteer work with Special Olympics to taking on neighbor kids to events they may have never had the opportunity to attend. Joann’s interests include Psychology, Nature and Art; both viewing and attempting it.
Jody Armstrong, Grants and Community Outreach Coordinator
Jody has been a Gulf beach resident since 1999. She graduated from University of Central Florida with a degree in Adult Education while working as a Training Instructor for USAirways. After 18 years, she left USAirways to attend Stetson University College of Law where she concurrently earned her juris doctorate and MBA degrees. Just before graduating, Jody was appointed to fill a vacant Commission seat for the Town of Redington Shores. She continued on to serve as Mayor, completing her final term in 2009. During her tenure, she represented the Town and the Barrier Island Governmental Council (BIG-C) on the boards of Pinellas County Tourist Development Council and Florida Shore & Beach Preservation Association (FSBPA). She also served on the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Board of Directors and Executive Committee during the business turnaround years and migrated to Chief Operating Officer in 2007 to implement operational changes and begin facility improvement construction projects.
Joseph DiDomenico, Executive Director (Joe)
Joe joined the team in 2008 as a management consultant, and then Director of Independent Living Services. He was appointed Executive Director in April 2010. He has a Bachelors of Science degree in Psychology, from Old Dominion University, and did Masters Studies in Rehabilitation Counseling, at the University of Virginia. He has been in the disability rights and rehabilitation services field for 4 decades. His experience ranges from one to one work with individuals to managing, leading and directing large residential rehabilitation facilities. He has a background in Spinal Cord, Traumatic Brain Injury, Behavioral, Vocational and Independent Living programs. He has served as a consultant for the Commission for Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). This wide ranging depth of knowledge makes him uniquely qualified to lead the Disability Achievement Center. Joe is a hands-on get in and work with the rest of the team kind of leader. He does not ask anyone to do a job he has not done himself. His experience gives him the ability to see the potentials of the future. He is always looking for the new approach, the new technology or the new idea that will put the Center ahead of the game.
Laurie Rys, Office Manager
Laurie joined Disability Achievement Center in July 2011 after an extended career in insurance and financial services. Laurie has transitioned from the business to the non-profit world where she now serves as our Office Manager. She assists management and staff in daily operations, is responsible for Human Resources and payroll functions, provides hands-on development of our online fundraising program and oversees our Volunteer Program. Laurie holds a Bachelor’s Degree in History and Secondary Education from the State University College @ Potsdam, NY.
Nicole Reed, Program Services Coordinator
Nicole Reed began her employment with the Center in March, 2012. However, her vast knowledge of informational technology, business and public relations has been vital to the Center's operations for over 15 years. As the Program Services Coordinator, she has worked to make each program more effective and organized. She is responsible for the supervision of all Independent Living Facilitators and program operations. In addition, she has had a lifelong education and exposure to advocacy for individuals with disabilities. She brings a unique and tremendously valuable perspective to the team.
Peter Stirpe, Independent Living Faciliator
Peter became a member of the team in 2014. He relocated to Pinellas County from Rockland County, New York where he held the position of Advocate, Teacher and Resource Specialist at Rockland Independent Living Center. In this position he worked with ACCESS – VR, established relationships with housing authorities to promote placement of individuals with disabilities into residential living. He also worked with local and state officials on accessibility and integration issues for persons with disabilities. Peter also taught weekly classes on computer literacy to prepare consumers bound for the workplace. He directed and implemented the Owner Occupied Home Loan Program which provided funding for home modifications. He has extensive training in ADA law and practices for ADA coordination, Fair Housing and Section 504 of the rehabilitation Act of 1973 as well as benefits advisement from Cornell University. He received training from Cornell University in Social Security Benefits Advisement and the Ticket to Work Program. Additionally, Peter has created classes and instruction utilizing the National Work Readiness Credential Program for students transitioning from high school.
Peter has earned a Master of Science degree as a Special/General Education Teacher with New York State Dual Certifications from Lehman College in Bronx , NY, his Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Mercy College and AAS in Human Services from Rockland Community College.
Peter has also held positions as a Social Worker/Family Services Coordinator and as a Substance Abuse Counselor at Daytop Center and Cage Agency.
On the personal side Peter has also worked as a Music Tutor for children, adolescents and special populations in both musical instruments and computer skills. He has also performed extensively as a professional musician and vocalist.
Renae Collins, Accountant
Renae Joined the team in 2011 to bolster the accounting needs of the growing organization. She attended Brown Mackie College, in Salina, Kansas, where she received three Associates Degrees in Accounting, Business Administration Management, and Marketing. She graduated with a 3.98 GPA. While working in various accounting positions, she attended Troy State University, in Pensacola, Florida. Renae received her Bachelor's of Science Degree in Accounting, graduating Summa Cum Laude with a 3.85 GPA. Renae has since held positions at a number of accounting firms and businesses that have prepared her for work with the Center. Whether at the Sam Ferris III, CPA accounting firm, in Corpus Christi, TX, Southcoast Learning Center, Inc., Musser and Associates, CPA's, or at Mansfield Industrial Coatings, Inc., in Pensacola, Florida, she has fine-tuned her accounting skills to the edge needed. The regulation driven, specific funding source managed nonprofit world requires such skills to balance the needs of consumers with the resources available.
Rhonda Alvarez, Tobacco Cessation Facilitator
Rhonda joined the team at Disability Achievement Center in 2014. She has a B.S. in Elementary Education from Longwood University (Va.) and an M.S. in Elementary Education from SUNY Brockport (NY). She has taught children and adults in both private and public settings for over four decades. She also served a national retail crafting and sewing chain as their Education and Demonstration Coordinator while in New York.
She moved to Pinellas County in 2005 and has worked in the Pinellas County School district as an educator. She also worked as a technician at Hill Top Research, a consumer research company. In that role she was trained as a skin irritation grader, in the identification of head lice for treatment, and in odor evaluations.
In 2013 she trained to become a Guardian ad Litem in the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court and is presently representing two sisters. In November 2013, she received the Award of Excellence.
Other volunteer activities include leading a group of ladies to create quilts for the children in foster care in Pinellas/Pasco Counties, through the Guardian ad Litem program, quilting, gardening and reading.
Rhonda is pleased to work with such dedicated team members at Disability Achievement Center and plans to offer the Quit Smoking Now and Quit and Be Free workshops in Pasco and Pinellas Counties throughout the year.