TAMPA, Fla. — The MacDonald Training Center received a proclamation from Mayor Jane Castor Thursday honoring its 70 years of working to help adults with disabilities in Tampa Bay.
"Here in the city of Tampa, we're so diverse," said Castor. "We have to ensure that we are recognizing and celebrating everyone's ability and value in our community. These young people starting their own businesses, going off to school, living independently, it really is a tribute to the MacDonald Training Center."
MTC was founded in 1953 by J. Clifford MacDonald. According to the center, he and a small group of parents opened one of the first preschools in the country for children with disabilities in Drew Park. Today, MTC provides vocational training, post-secondary education, and residential support programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, autism Spectrum disorder, and those who are deaf and hard of hearing.
Jon Sandow, 32, is taking part in the "Tech2Work" program from MTC's eMerge Career Education and The Learning Academy at the University of South Florida. The first part is held at MTC and focuses on teaching neurodiverse students the foundational skills they need to work with computers.
Sandow, who has autism, ADHD, and Fragile X Syndrome, said he enjoys helping people with their computer problems.
"When people, like, their computer breaks down ... it's like the end of the world," Sandow said.
Since the end of last year, Sandow has helped customers put it all back together. He earned multiple computer repair certifications as part of Tech2Work and started his own repair business, Computers 'N More.
"It's been going good," he said. "I've gotten busier."
George Dollar, Sandow's instructor, said his student's drive and determination was apparent early on.
"Every time we would have a hands-on session, I'd bring in a computer, and I'd say, 'OK, find out what's wrong with this computer — of course, he's the first one to jump in," Dollar said of Sandow. "We can teach a lot of things, but we can't teach motivation. So, when we see somebody that's motivated and has their own personal drive, that's the kind of person that we want to help move into the next level, which in his case was starting his own business."
MTC helped Sandow apply for the RESPECT of Florida Micro-Enterprise Grant, which he ultimately won. Sandow said he received $12,000 that he used to start his business.
"It's been very helpful, because I wouldn't be able to get the grant if I didn't go here," Sandow said of having MTC as a resource.
Dollar said it's rewarding to see the success of Sandow and other students.
"To see these young people — who before were maybe told, 'No, you can't do these things' — but now, with the right skills and, yes, the certifications from industry-recognized companies like Microsoft and CompTIA and MSSC, which is a logistics company, they can now do that," Dollar said.
Sandow is now taking the second part of Tech2Work at USF, which focuses on automation. He's stayed in touch with Dollar and MTC as he navigates life as a first-time business owner.
Applications are now open for the next Tech2Work session. The deadline is April 1.