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.
Cathy Lammers, Independent Living Facilitator
Cathy joined the team in 2011; She has a Bachelor of Science in Social Work from Southern Illinois University. She has continued her education with ongoing work in Medicaid, Medicare, Diversity, human behaviors, substance abuse/addictions, and traumatic brain injuries. She has spent twenty plus years in the social service field, including Substance Abuse, Geriatric patient, Mental Health patient and domestic violence victim services. A member of NASW, Cathy. She Received the Community Service Award in 2006 for her work in the HIV community. As an Independent Living Facilitator she brings her special brand of down to earth passion and commitment to her consumers. With an infectious sense of humor she always has consumers relieved when they leave her office no matter how difficult the challenges are that they are facing. When she leaves the center she goes home to her other full time job as a foster mom to three children that came from abusive homes. Her love and energy never seem to run low. Her hobbies are reading, and gardening.
Cynthia Kiper, Employment Programs Manager (Cindy)
Cindy joined the team in 2011 after nearly seven years in business and rehabilitation services. She has an impressive educational background beginning in 1982 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Fashion Merchandising and a Major in Home Economics from the University of Arkansas. She has been working on her MBA at University of Phoenix and in 2010 she completed a 15 hour Graduate Certificate in Deaf-Blind Rehabilitation, from Northern Illinois University having the privilege of completing her internship at the Helen Keller National Center in Sands Point, New York. Whether as an assistant buyer for Wal-Mart or Dillards, an award winning real estate professional, a Vocational Rehabilitation Technician in Pennsylvania/Florida where she was recognized numerous times or as a job placement consultant with Boley Centers, Inc., creating jobs and filling them is her passion. Her no nonsense approach to employment for people with disabilities gets to the heart of the matter with employers and job seekers alike. She inspires the consumers she works with to "just give it a try" and the employers she talks to do the same.
Janette Piper, Employment Programs Administrative Assistant (Jan)
Jan joined the team in 2010 after a career in finance, and corporate management. She has an Associate's Degree in General Studies; with majors in English and Biology from Lorain County Community College. She has Special Certifications and Training from the Florida Agency for People With Disabilities, holding an Approved Service Certificate and a Supported Employment, Person Centered Approach Training Certification. Jan She also has a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) certification and Blood Borne Pathogens training. Her work at The Center for Independence, the Hernando County School Board, and Avco Financial Services has given her a great understanding of employment and job creation. She leads the Employment Program from the point of view that every person can achieve a level of work equal to their talents if given a fair opportunity and the right supports. Jan brings 25 years of experience in the business sector to this program. She works to advocate and educate the local employers about the advantages of employing people with disabilities. Jan's happiness is pervasive and her consumers talk about the atmosphere being electric when she is around.
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, Employment Services 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.
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.
Martha Humes, Grants and Community Outreach Coordinator
Martha received a Bachelors of Science degree from Eastern Michigan University in Clinical Laboratory Science and previously worked in a laboratory matching organ donors with recipients and collaborating with clinical investigators exploring pharmaceutical treatments for cardiovascular disease. She received her Master of Arts degree in Rehabilitation Counseling and Community Inclusion from Wayne State University, making the decision to assist people with disabilities after her own experience with sudden onset disability in 2003. She was a Rehabilitation Counselor with the State of Michigan, helping people with persistent mental health diagnoses in obtaining and maintaining employment. She relocated to the Tampa Bay area in 2012 to take advantage of the sunshine and the increased opportunities for accessible outdoor activities. In her free time, Martha enjoys swimming, handcycling, kayaking, and spending time outdoors with friends.
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.
Nicole Rodriguez (Nikki), Independent Living Facilitator
Nikki joined our team in 2012, and has proven to be a perfect fit as she has an unyielding dedication to make a difference in those around her as well as the community as a whole. She has a Bachelor of Arts and Science Degree in Psychology from University of South Florida with an emphasis on: abnormal, behavioral, and developmental psychology. Nikki also has a strong background in art with a passion for art therapy.
As an Independent Living Facilitator Nikki helps consumers achieve their self set goals by giving them the individual attention needed, persistent promotion of self-advocacy, and providing them with every tool available to achieve their desired goal.
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.
Robert Figueroa, Employment Services Facilitator
Robert came onboard in 2013, after having been a team member of a previous incarnation of the Center nearly five years before. He brings a unique perspective in that regard, bearing fresh witness to the tremendous growth and progress the Center has achieved in recent years. Robert has worked for well over a decade in the disability and elder care arenas, in areas such as assistive technology, information technology, vocational rehab, communication and advocacy, veterans issues and care, Medicare and Medicaid funding, and accessibility in the home and other environments. His background and skills combine technical training and experience with a flair for communicating and a passion for helping empower people. He is an accomplished writer, having authored or co-authored numerous articles, guest editorials, presentations, websites, training and marketing materials, business plans, and successful grants (currently approaching $1 million in total monies awarded).
Robert enjoys an active Florida lifestyle, surfing and sailing whenever the waves and wind align with his off time, and getting away to the mountains for snowboarding in the winter—all of which he prefers doing in the company of his teenage daughters (both of whom were adopted from China). He holds a BA in Literature and Writing from the University of California at San Diego, and an MS in Computer Information Systems from Florida Gulf Coast University.