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, CVE, 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.
I am Carrie Schulz, the Chief Financial Officer at employU. I have spent most of my adult life working for nonprofit organizations. I started my nonprofit work with Rollins College as an Information Technology professional. During my work there, I earned my Master’s in Business Administration from the Crummer Graduate School of Business. I specialized in accounting and management and decided to pursue the accounting side of work to earn my CPA.
Through my time at Rollins, I moved departments and into a Director role in the Office of Finance and Accounting. I also began to provide CPA services to a multitude of nonprofit organizations in the Central Florida area. I truly loved learning about the people and the organizations I worked with. It is very motivating to see what people are doing to help the world around us.
When I learned about employU and their mission, it hit home. My niece who lives with me is an individual that is intellectually disabled. She is a few years out of high school now and during her last year of high school, she completed a program called project search. This program helped young people with disabilities learn the basic life skills needed to help them earn a job. I remember the day she came home to tell me that she got a job at Marshall’s. She was thrilled and has managed to continue working at that job now, 3 years later. My niece would not have been able to get the job she has without the assistance of an organization like employU. These organizations help people like my niece, apply for, earn, and keep jobs. She would not have been able to do this without assistance.
So needless to say, when I learned that employU was looking for a CFO I was excited about the opportunity. This organization is allowing me to bring together the variety of skills I have learned and use them to build a core structure for this rapidly growing organization. This organization challenges me daily, which I love as it continues my growth as a professional. employU is a wonderful place to work and I look forward to growing with the organization.
My name is Alex Kyhn and I am the Director of Operations at employU. When I moved to Florida from California in 2015, I knew I wanted to find a position within a company that had the same passion for helping people that I do, so I began the hunt that led me to finding employU. After speaking to Executive Director Keith Bourkney at a local job fair and hearing the vision and passion for what the organization was doing, I instantly knew that employU was the right place for me.
Shortly after that job fair, I was hired as a Job Coach for the Employment Services program in Volusia county, assisting adults with obtaining and maintaining gainful employment. I instantly fell in love with my new position, knowing each and every day I was making a positive difference in both the lives of our customers and the local community. As I continued to acquire more knowledge within our field and build stronger relationships with both our customers and business partners, I was elevated to the position of Employment Specialist. With this new role came new duties and responsibilities, but that affinity for our mission only grew stronger. The combination of this new position coupled with an even stronger desire to learn more about our field of work led to my pursuit and successful completion of a Masters of Public Administration with an emphasis in Non-Profit Management.
Upon completion of my Master’s degree, I was offered the position of Corporate Trainer, a newly created job title within employU. This new position would come with a different focus than those of my previous positions, turning attention to our staff members and helping to put them in position to achieve the highest level of success with our customers. I have since been promoted to Director of Operations. It is a role that I have a strong devotion to and I come to work each and every day excited and motivated to achieve our mission. We are truly changing lives and making our community stronger through the services we provide and I couldn’t be more proud to get to play a role in the positive impact we are enacting.
I am Neftali Rodriguez and I am the Senior Operations and IT Adviser at employU, Inc. I hold a Master’s of Business Administration, Computer Information Systems from the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico. My education along with over 20 years of experience in the field of information systems and technology has enabled me to provide valuable insights and guidance in all matters of information technology.
Being a part of employU, an organization committed to helping people with disabilities find employment, has been a great honor. We have an amazing team that works closely to construct the customer relationship management system which tracks and manages each program, business, and customer. In 2019 and 2020 we have been focused on redesigning our core operation processes and establishing our automated workflow applications. Every day we are looking to identify new cost-effective ways to enhance our network infrastructure and to provide a secure environment for data management.
I am devoted to employU’s mission to improve the quality of life of our customers. People with disabilities make up one of the nation’s largest minority group and one of which any of us can become a member of at any time. I am committed to helping create an environment where our customers have the opportunity to gain independence, increase self-esteem, and discover their abilities by connecting them with the appropriate employer.
My name is Torrie Baker, dog mom to a handsome Golden Retriever named Captain. I was born and raised in northern Michigan until moving to Chicago, IL where I fell in love with the big city and my career in social services. I have a master’s degree in Social Work with an emphasis on Leadership and Development from Loyola University. Chicago was my home for many years before I relocated to the Sunshine State and landed at employU.
I have dedicated my entire career to advocating and supporting those who are differently-abled and may be experiencing a multitude of life challenges in achieving the goals and objectives they set for themselves. But employment services truly became my passion twelve years ago when I witnessed the pure joy of an individual on my caseload obtaining his first ever job. My passion for this work grew exponentially from there and it became my mission to learn, grow, and share my joy with others.
Since then, I have spent most of my time in the field training, developing, and leading teams of qualified staff in assisting their own caseloads reach their employment goals. Now my joy for this work is quantified by not only witnessing client’s reach their employment goals, but also seeing the same joy I remember experiencing on the faces of the staff I support. It is now my mission to not only assist the individuals we serve but also to guide the staff on my team in their own professional development within the field of social services.
Hello, my name is Steven Warren, and I am the Employment Services Program Developer for employU. I first started working with the disability community in northern Ohio, where I was hired as a night shift supervisor for a private company called New Life that was hosting a training program through a partnership with a Walgreens distribution center. I was able to work with a crew of three other job coaches and approximately twenty people with developmental disabilities as we performed various roles around the warehouse each night.
It was also during this time that I held a second job providing job coaching for a state-run organization. Working for both organizations at the same time provided me with a unique opportunity to work with a more diverse population. As time progressed, I was able to leave my position job coaching at the warehouse, and I started to organize various job training partnerships with New Life. Some examples of our works included the creation of an auto detailing program with a family of used car dealerships and a partnership with a small family startup making duck decoys.
After several years of working with these organizations, I decided to take a hiatus to explore more career fields. I earned my CDL with hazmat and tanker endorsements, and I drove over the road carrying hazardous chemicals. It was also during this time that I gained experience working in the oil field, as well as earning various heavy machinery, welding, and crane operator certifications. I have found that my own diverse background has proven especially helpful when training others due to my ability to provide first-hand knowledge in a wide variety of industries.
When I learned about employU, I knew it was a passion that I wanted to return to. I relocated to Florida to return to my role as a job coach once again. In the beginning I lived in Deltona and would commute to work in the Winter Haven and Lakeland area every day. Eventually I became an Employment Specialist covering the Orlando and Sanford areas. As employU continued to grow, I accepted the position as a Program Developer allowing me to travel to new areas for us to establish ourselves and begin providing services to more of those in need. I have since then assisted with establishing the Jacksonville area, an exceptionally large North-Central Florida area, and now Tallahassee as we expand into the panhandle. I recently bought a home in Panama City, and I am excited to continue helping employU grow and continuing to serve those in need.
My name is Frank Sales, and I am the Central Florida Area Manager for Adult Employment Services. I was born in Madrid, Spain and lived in Mexico City as a young child, but have been in the Orlando area for the majority of my life. I attended Austin Peay State University in TN on a football scholarship, but ultimately graduated from Rollins College in Winter Park, FL.
I have always been driven to help people. Even when I held jobs that were not centered around that, I always found myself carving out opportunities and creating programs to empower and enhance the lives of those around me. In a corporate training capacity, I adapted materials and processes to accommodate those who needed a varied approach. As a manager, I sought to hire those from marginalized populations and I invested in their growth and development. Even as a medical sales rep I found myself appealing more to the patient’s needs than the corporation’s objectives. As time went on, I realized just how much I wanted to have a job that focused on improving people’s lives.
When I joined employU, I felt as if I had found my dream job. Here I could use my passion, skills, and abilities to directly improve the lives of others every day. I am committed to employU and everything it stands for. I am excited every day to come to work for a company that strives to bring out the out the best in its employees, and those we serve. It turns out the old saying is true, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
Hey everyone! I am Jan Saunders the Area Manager here at employU in Jacksonville. As the Area Manager, I work with a wonderful team of Employment Specialists. I have worked as a Social Worker for over 25 years. For most of those years, my work focused on helping survivors of crime and adults, youth, and children in crisis. Through those years I was fortunate to be able to assist people of every age, background, and of level of abilities.
Although I spent most of my life in Florida, where I attended middle school, high school, and graduated from the University of South Florida with a Bachelor of Social Work degree, in 2007 we moved to Wisconsin. While there I continued my work in social services as well as owning my own business. After 12 years of winters, we decided to move back to Florida and to the Jacksonville area. That is when I found employU. Luckily, they were looking for someone with my experience in management and passion for working with individuals from varied backgrounds, so we were a perfect match.
Since beginning my career at employU I have found it to be incredibly rewarding and have learned so much. My family loves to hear about all the jobs I get to do when job coaching with clients. Whether it is learning how the stockroom of a clothing store is organized and gets products out to the floor or seeing how much work goes into making those afternoon smoothies we all love so much, it is never the same day twice. The best days are when I get to see a client land the job they have been looking for and finding a place where they can grow, acquire new skills, and change the way people view individuals with differing abilities. I look forward to continuing to educate the business community here in Jacksonville on just how much our clients have to offer.
I was born in Los Angeles California and my family relocated to Tennessee when I was 13 years old. As you can imagine, this was a culture shock, but I successfully made friends that I still have today. Graduating from the University of Tennessee turned my blood orange with hints of white.
Sales and marketing were always my focus as my career took me to Tampa then to Satellite Beach where I met my wife who is a Gator fan. In 2008, we moved to Ocala to open a car dealership. She loved being so close to UF. We are now foster parents, have two boys of our own, and live on a family farm. At the dealership, I created a program where we hired many people reentering society from prison. They were hired as lot porters, detailers, and mechanics. I also trained two of my best employees to be sales managers. I learned how crucial programs like that and those offered by vocational rehabilitation and employU are to increase chances of success in the workforce for varying populations.
I have known Keith Bourkney for a very long time and admired his passion and work ethic. I knew when he founded employU in 2012 the company would experience tremendous growth under his leadership. Finally, in 2016, I decided it was time to have a real conversation with Keith about joining his team to which he had me apply. We opened the Ocala office in March of 2017, followed by offices in Inverness, Gainesville, and Lake City. We have an amazing team from the leadership, job coaches, employment specialists, coordinators, and administrators. I thank God daily for our adult employment services staff, amazing consumers, and our great partnership with Vocational Rehabilitation. I know this program truly makes a difference in people’s lives.