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Each year, we help hundreds of youth and adults that have physical and mental disabilities prepare for or advance in their professional life. Read some of their stories below.

Meet Bryan

Bryan has Cerebral Palsy, and he uses a manual wheelchair to assist with his mobility disability. He started at the Career Academy with an MA in Human Resources Management from Webster University.

Before coming to our Career Academy, Brian was sending the same resume to every job opportunity, and he was finding little success landing a job he desired.

During the Career Academy program, he learned the hard skill of customizing his resume for each job. Several of the lessons in the Academy also taught him to be more adaptable, flexible, fluid and creative. After graduating from the Starkloff Career Academy in the Spring of 2017, he felt more confident with his disability because of the skills he learned and the opportunity to observe other professionals with disabilities living and working comfortably.

It was his self-assurance and courage that helped Bryan earn an internship at Gateway Sales Consulting, a firm committed to being the largest outsourced consulting company in North America, as a Job Title Recruiter for sales people in the business-to-business sector.

When describing his work experience, Bryan says, “My most meaningful work experience was building relationships with job seekers, making them feel more comfortable. I was able to establish a relationship with possible candidates to find out a common interest to discuss. I was able to help them relax prior to their interview, as well – All skills I learned from SCA.”

The Career Academy helped Bryan find his inner confidence, become more open and friendly. “It changed my life.”

Meet Richard

Fine tuning his self-confidence and selling himself to an employer are the most important things that Richard learned in the Starkloff Career Academy. “Meeting and getting to know my fellow classmates was amazing,” he adds. “Seeing how strong the human spirit is, the huge obstacles that can challenge us to accomplish and achieve so much. I am in awe of my classmates.”

Richard came to the Career Academy with a BA in Art History from UMSL. The Career Academy helped him develop strong interviewing skills and learn how to self-promote. Richard is now teaching at the St. Louis Community College, where he leads a continuing education class on how to use Twitter as well as freshman orientation, a semester-long class. “The class is to help freshman understand and adjust to the college work load and responsibilities.” He has been there since 2014.

Using his degree and training, Richard values helping students start their journey to learn new skills. “This is a huge task and I admire their will to succeed.”

Richard has Muscular Dystrophy. He has been using a wheelchair since 2003, at the age of 22. Having a disability helps make him an outstanding employee. “I see more possibilities from a different view. We can make anything possible with a different approach.”

“Always look for and find new inspiration,” Richard proclaims. Be a problem solver. “Where there is a will, there is a way.”

Meet Peter

Peter Ahlering was a member of the pilot program for Dream Big’s Career Camp in 2017.
He enjoyed the Dream Big program because it allowed him to explore many different job opportunities for people with disabilities at companies and corporations around St. Louis. He learned about several opportunities for internships as well.

“He had such a great experience with the Dream Big program. It was wonderful for Peter to see that local companies are open to hiring people with a different view of the world because they are untapped potential and they have so much of value to offer” said Ruthie Ahlering, Peter’s mom.

Dream Big offered Peter not only the opportunity to learn about the corporate landscape of Saint Louis, but also connect with other like-minded students that he found shared goals and interests with.

“I had an enjoyable week meeting new people and getting to see and explore these companies,” said Peter.

Peter is a graduate of John F. Kennedy High School and is now attending Saint Louis Community College at Meramec with an interest in graphic design. He is also enrolled in Algebra 2 and English Composition.

Thanks to the amazing candidates, like Peter, Dream Big’s first year was a great success.

Meet Sarah

Sarah Schwegel, who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type II and uses a power wheelchair, is a life-long advocate for people with disabilities. She served as the National Ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, while also thriving in her academic career and competing on a national level with her power-soccer team.

Sarah completed her undergraduate degree at Maryville University, where she pursued the Disability Studies curriculum, taught by the staff of Starkloff Disability Institute. As a summer intern at SDI, Sarah collected data and stories on individuals with disabilities impacted by Medicaid policy and how it prohibited them from entering the job market. Sarah’s talent and enthusiasm were evident. She went to work part-time in the Diversity and Inclusion department of Nestle Purina to help them become more disability-welcoming.

Currently, Sarah is studying for her Master’s degree in Public Policy at Saint Louis University.

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