My 2014 National Disability Employment Awareness Month Blog – Bridge II Sports

Ashley Thomas, Founder and Executive Director of Bridge II Sports, is herself a member of the US National Parakayak team.

Ashley Thomas, Founder and Executive Director of Bridge II Sports, is herself a member of the US National Parakayak team.

On September 11 of this year, I attended the second annual Triangle (NC) Business Journal’s Leaders in Diversity awards luncheon. I met one of the outstanding and inspirational award winners in the nonprofit leadership category, Ashley Thomas, Founder and Executive Director of Bridge II Sports. I felt she would be perfect to interview for my this year’s October National Disability Employment Awareness Month blog.

STAN: “First, Ashley, could you tell me a little about what Bridge II Sports is all about?”
ASHLEY: “Sure, Bridge II Sports (BIIS), provides adapted sports programs for people with physical disabilities. Our programs serve both youth and adults, as well as military. Often when one is injured, or is born with disabilities, there are no opportunities for active, healthy sports options. We decided to open a door to this niche. BIIS uses adapted sports to develop confidence in the heart and mind that empowers athleticism and confidence!

STAN: “What inspired you to start and build this organization?”
ASHLEY: “As a child, born with Spina Bifida, I was ambulatory, but not an efficient runner nor did I have balance. Once I got into a wheelchair, I discovered that I no longer had fatigue, new energy was discovered, and that chair that “binds – wheelchair bound”, became the tool that set me free! I began to explore if there was wheelchair racing on the internet. I found a coach from Arizona, who told me how to train over the internet! That is what got me going. It was such a joy to have freedom in movement, set a goal, train, accomplish my 1st 5K in 29:32! This made me think that every child should have this opportunity. I guess to make is short, it was so liberating and empowering to me, I felt like others should have the opportunity.”

A basketball game being played in Wake County, NC

A basketball game being played in Wake County, NC

STAN: “Since I am a diversity and career consultant, I often write and blog about workplace diversity and career development. What do you feel is the connection between engaging people with disabilities in sports and preparing them and empowering them to succeed in the work place?”
AHSLEY: Great question! Physical activity, social interaction on the playground, at parties, boy scouts, girl scouts, church groups, etc., are huge arenas where social development, self-confidence, personal identity, begin to form. When one has a mobility limit, I find that there are many areas that just did not get a change to develop. Creating accountability for those with physical challenge is hard to create….unless the one who is setting the standard also has a limit. Our programs set the standard of being on time, yes we know it may take you longer, to accomplish a task, but, the world works on time. We help understand what it means to be a team player. So often a child with disabilities does not get that opportunity, and become very self-focused. This is not a harsh criticism, but and outcome when so much is focused on the brokenness – multiple doctor visits, PT, OT, social worker, ….. Sometimes a kid just needs to be a kid. When accountability, goal setting, team mindedness, is incorporated into the programs, we have developed people who will be great employees! Everyone has a limit, I wanted the folks how have physical limits to have the same ability for development using sports as those who are able to walk, see, move!

STAN: “Is there anything else you want to tell me about Bridge II Sports or yourself?”
ASHLEY: BIIS is a non-profit that functions by many volunteers and donors. I would like to invite folks to learn more about our programs and get involved. Please consider becoming a part of the 360 Club (Link) and sponsor a program so children and adults with disabilities can play!

Many thanks to Ashley for strengthening our community and help so many people though her fine work and organization! Do check out the amazing wide variety of sports programs offered, from indoor to outdoor, individual, team and even extreme!

Also, here is a link to last year’s blog about another fine leader and organization: Sandy Moonert and Enable America.

Special Guest Blog for National Disability Employment Awareness Month

By Sandy Moonert, North Carolina Program Director for Enable America

Intro from Stan C. Kimer: My first blog in October was focused on the connection between schoolyard bullying and workplace harassment (link), since October is Bullying Awareness Month. And since October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a very key area in the diversity mix, I knew I also wanted to add focus on this in my blog.

I am very grateful to Sandy Moonert, who enthusiastically agreed to write about very important collaborative efforts around engaging people with disabilities in the work place. I first met Sandy when I worked with her on a half day session around the toughest areas of diversity – I covered LGBT and she superbly handled people with disabilities. I knew then she was a special person truly passionate about her work who I wanted to keep in touch with.

The Carolina Hurricanes 5th annual Enable America Mentoring Career Day

The Carolina Hurricanes 5th annual Enable America Mentoring Career Day

Costco of Durham's first Enable America Career Exploration Day

Costco of Durham’s first Enable America Career Exploration Day

Each year during the month of October, many diverse and inclusive employers celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month, an initiative of the Department of Labor-Office of Disability Employment Policy. At Enable America we partner with employers to host Career Mentoring Days, matching job seekers with disabilities to mentors who provide employment information, career coaching, and encouragement. The mentoring company and its employees are exposed to a talented pool of resources while the mentees or job seekers further their understanding of the industry, company and position which they are targeting. Building these bridges of knowledge and education is the mission of Enable America, an advocacy for increasing employment of persons with disabilities, wounded warriors and disabled veterans.

Enable America works with 24 employers across the State of North Carolina, including the Carolina Hurricanes of Raleigh and Costco of Durham (pictured above). This October the Carolina Hurricanes held their 5th annual Enable America Career Mentoring Day. Hurricanes employee Johnny Gill spent the day with Richard referred by the DHHS Division of Services for the Blind, providing a behind-the-scenes view of the hockey operation and career advice; as well as involving Richard in the planning of an upcoming Hurricanes promotion. Also in October, Costco of Durham held their first Enable America Career Exploration Day when General Manager Brian Minion and his staff hosted 20(!) job seekers referred by DHHS VR, Rainbow66Storehouse, Durham Veterans Administration, Becoming of Durham, Carolina Outreach, Community Partnerships, and Ft. Bragg WTB. Job seekers learned about Costco’s unique company benefits and position in the retail industry, as well as employment opportunities and process. Networking opportunities like the Hurricanes and Costco mentoring days give job seekers a competitive edge and can help accelerate their job search while expanding visions of what is possible, for both the job seeker and the employer. Thank you Carolina Hurricanes and Costco of Durham for your inclusive culture!

Enable America’s mission continues throughout the month of November when in addition to persons with disabilities, the nation recognizes National Disabled Veteran Employment Awareness month. Recruitment is underway for wounded warriors, disabled veterans and persons with disabilities to attend mentoring days offered by Enable America in partnership with Eaton Corporation, SAS, Lenovo and Duke Energy. For more information, visit


About Enable America: Established in 2002 by attorney Richard Salem, Enable America builds bridges between employers, social service agencies, and people with disabilities, including disabled veterans and wounded warriors, through programs that improve employment opportunities. The organization’s Community Connections, Business Connections, Employment Mentoring, Job Skills Workshops and VetConnect programs unite members of the disability community and business community to raise awareness and increase employment opportunities for the more than 56 million Americans with disabilities. Information and success stories can be found