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When Olaya Orozco was two years old, she made the perfect potato man; and her mom told her one day she will become an artist. Today, she is an artist in Publix Bakery thanks to her determination and the dedication of our partner agency, Coastal Center for Developmental Services (CCDS).

As a senior at Islands High School, Olaya entered Project SEARCH, a high school transition program that provides on-site training and education leading to employment for individuals with disabilities. She initially started in a clerical position, but the job coaches realized she did not do well in this position.

She later worked in Armstrong State University’s cafeteria where she excelled. Her artistic talents shone through when she created The Ocean cake. Swirls and waves of blue led by her steady hands—Olaya made self-discovery and a beautiful cake.

Similar to baking, her job hunt was a process, but Olaya and her CCDS job coaches never gave up on finding her place. Valerie began alongside Olaya’s journey of self-discovery, but it is Whitney who attended cake decorating classes with her and continues to help Olaya toward accomplishing her goals.

“When I met Olaya, I knew that she was incredibly creative… great imagination, very talented art wise in drawing and painting,” says Whitney Lowery, employment specialist with CCDS.

Olaya lives with Autism and ADHD. She loves animals and drawing comic book strips.

Initially, Olaya was flagged as not suitable to work in a cafeteria after her internship. It came as a sense of loss for her.

“I didn’t get it, I was doing the hard work,” says Olaya.

It wasn’t that Olaya was bad at working in the kitchen, Whitney says she just had a difficult time managing the equipment.

Instead of thinking of this as a setback, the two saw it as an opportunity to work on Olaya’s artistic side—decorating skills. In an impressive amount of time, Olaya finished her class and accepted a position with a Publix Bakery near her home. Whitney shared that as the oldest of four children, Olaya was determined to be a role model for her brothers and sisters by showing them how to be independent.

Olaya impresses those she meets with her humble ability to shine in her soft smile and hard work. She made a strong start on her first day decorating almost 600 cupcakes, if that’s even possible on her first day.

“Olaya has done very well and is learning more and more each week,” says Mr. Stuart her manager.

It took multiple turns, but Olaya hasn’t stopped accomplishing her dreams, day by day… one by one. Her goals are to take an art class, save up enough money to buy an art tablet, and maybe one day become a digital artist. These days, she earns a paycheck making treats look as good as they taste, replicating beauty over and over again. She will be the first to tell you her journey was unique.

“I just took a different path from the others,” says Olaya.

Despite the changes behind and the hurdles to come, Olaya urges those trying to follow their dreams, not to give up and to keeping striving towards their goals. Because of the care of agencies like CCDS, members of our community can dare to dream new dreams. These agencies can’t do all the work alone. Give a day of service, be one voice for someone in need, volunteer to take action—one by one, let’s improve the lives of those in the Coastal Empire.