As a native of Buffalo, New York and a die-hard Bills fan, I relocated to Florida in 2001 where I joined a lifelong friend in assisting him in running a marketing company in Orlando, Florida. In 2009 we opened an office in Casselberry, which happened to be located next to a Vocational Rehabilitation Office. I met some of the VR Counselors and learned about the services they provide. They informed me that they had clients who may be a good fit for our business, so I made the decision to contract our company as a Voc Rehab Vendor where I could receive workers through on-the-job training. Over the next couple of years, we employed several people who were referred from VR. What stood out to me was that they showed a great appreciation for the opportunity to work with us. They were loyal and they would do their best every day. I appreciated working with them and once I learned that there was an opportunity to help people with disabilities with employment on a full-time basis, I made the decision to open employU.
Once I started receiving referrals and started working with the individuals, I realized that this was what I was meant to do. I quickly became passionate and driven to build employU to become a great company. Within a year I was able to recruit an amazing staff, including my wife, and started developing systems and processes that would result in high levels of activity for our customers. We worked in the rural areas first, where our services were most needed and found success quickly. Since 2012 we have brought our methods to over 40 counties in the State of Florida with multiple services and have helped thousands of people embark on new careers. Early on, we made the decision to never turn down a new referral and instead grow to the demand. We’ll continue to expand, and we will also continue to discover ways that we can improve and help our customers better.
I am Melissa Sherry, the Program Director for Adult Services at employU. When I was 18, I started working in a sheltered workshop supervising adults with developmental disabilities doing piece work and being paid just pennies for a full day of work. I knew even at that young age that everyone, including the participants at the workshop, deserved to live and work in their communities and to have the opportunity to earn a fair wage. Everyone deserves to have dreams, goals, and aspirations.
After a few years of working in the workshop, I had the opportunity to be part of a pilot program where I found businesses that allowed my workshop participants to gain work experience and become employed at various jobs in the community. Seeing the differences in my participants’ behaviors, their happiness of feeling valued, being appreciated for their hard work, and, most of all, being accepted by their coworkers, was all I needed to know that my passion in life was to assist people with disabilities to become employed.
I began working with all disabilities with a strong focus on mental illness. I went to college for Criminal Justice because so many of my customers with disabilities had criminal records and re-entry to society had such a low success rate if the person was not trained and given the opportunity to become gainfully employed.
As the years went by, I was blessed to have some awesome mentors who taught me what I know now. As the Program Director, my goal is to hire and train my staff to have the same level of compassion and dedication to help our participants’ vocational dreams to come true.
Hello there! I am Jennifer Anken, MS, CRC, the Director of Vocational Evaluation Services at employU. I began my rewarding career at employU when our vocational evaluation program was in its infancy. I am proud to have assisted in growing the program to provide services throughout the state of Florida. To date, my team has worked diligently to assist thousands of clients in navigating their vocational path to rewarding careers.
My educational background includes a BA in Human Development with a concentration in Psychology from SUNY Empire State College and a MS in Rehabilitation Counseling from the University at Buffalo. I hold a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) credential from the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification. With nearly two decades in the field of disability services in both the private and public sector in my home state of New York, I decided it was time for a change of scenery and relocated to Florida, where EmployU was seeking to grow the vocational evaluation team. At that time, the company was relatively small, but I believed in the mission to empower persons with disabilities through training and employment. I saw this as a great opportunity to bring my skills to a growing team. From my years in the field, I had learned that the development of a vocational path that is consistent with the interests and abilities of the individual is incredibly empowering. I also saw that it had a direct correlation to the increase of an individual’s self-confidence and sense of self-worth.
employU has afforded me the opportunity to fully utilize my administrative and clinical skills in building an experienced, professional team committed to providing our clients with the highest quality vocational evaluations and sound vocational advisement. However, most importantly, I am given the opportunity to see hope manifest itself daily, as the people we serve are given a path to achieve their goals they had not previously thought possible. I believe there is no reward larger than this.
I am Lindy Sinka, the Transition Program Director at employU. Having worked in the non-profit world for many years, I had the opportunity to work in Northern Iraq for five years. This experience totally and utterly changed my life, as I worked with many students with disabilities in an area where the basic infrastructure had been degraded over years of conflict. We are fortunate to have disability programs for youth, adults, and the elderly, but not all countries have these services. After seeing firsthand how a little support can go a long way in changing lives, I knew that I wanted to work with young people with disabilities to help them prepare for life.
After living abroad for over a decade and in Iraq for five years, I moved back to Central Florida and was fortunate enough to find employU. They were looking for a Transition Program Director for their youth program and I jumped at the opportunity. Our program has grown over the last few years and is currently the largest in Florida. Our community internship model has been recognized at the state and national level and we are all so excited to create diverse opportunities for the students we serve.
One of the most exciting aspects of working with youth is that they are so quick to learn and make astounding progress in a short period of time. We take our role very seriously, but also have fun working with our students and community partners. This is by far, the most amazing position that I’ve ever held. I am excited to get working each and every day to build this program for the students we serve.