Realtor® Laura Georgelos: Transforming Lives through STARability
NAPLES, Fla. – Laura Georgelos, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Real Estate in Naples and a member of the Naples Area Board of Realtors® (NABOR), has a personal connection with the STARability Foundation, an organization that serves individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities in Southwest Florida. Her daughter Victoria (Tori) is intellectually disabled and STARability programs have been invaluable to her.
“The organization’s focus is to transform the lives of these individuals through social, vocational and educational connections into the community,” Georgelos says.
Advocating for those with disabilities comes naturally to Georgelos. “For the 25 years that my daughter has been on this earth, I’ve advocated for her and helped others like her,” she says.
Last year, Georgelos was STARability’s gala chair. “My role is solely in the fundraising capacity,” she says. She’s been volunteering for the organization for over 15 years.
“At the age of 22, the United States school system ages our children out of the programs and activities they are accustomed to,” she says. “So, we have to find a meaningful day program or job for them.”
STARability provides those programs and opportunities.
“Having a disability can be very isolating. STARability programs greatly increased Tori’s confidence by providing comradery that is so important,” Georgelos says.
Tori attends the Trailblazer Academy, which provides community-based skill development, such as cooking, computer and nutrition classes. “Then, they’re out the door to vocational sites. At the end of the day, they go to recreational activities,” she says.
To get donations, Georgelos speaks of her own experience with the program.
“In 2019, because I was a chairperson, I had to give a speech,” she recalls. “It was daunting but I spoke from the heart. The reception I received afterwards is what made me feel like this is something that is super important, and I needed to continue getting up on stage and raising money.”
Georgelos says she’s had people in the community reach out to her to tell her much her speech moved them.
She recalls, “One of the audience members that night said, ‘I don't have tens of thousands of dollars to donate, but I do own a chocolate chip cookie business. And what I’d like to do is have your participants work in my chocolate chip cookie business. They can help me package them, pour the flour, stir the dough.’”
They raised $760,000 in 2019 for STARability. With that money, “We could add programs, bring in more staff members, buy vans and move to bigger spaces. That’s what propels me forward,” Georgelos says.
In 2020, despite the pandemic, the Naples chapter raised $1 million. In April 2020, STARability transitioned to virtual classes to continue to serve their participants. While that was difficult, as the participants – ages 14 to 70 – thrive with face-to-face interaction, the quick pivot to online classes provided a way for them to continue to learn and grow.
According to Georgelos, the next step is to build a big center, “some kind of hub for participants.” The current STARability center has one business, a resale shop, where participants can work.
The foundation recently launched a new social enterprise called the STAR* Made Studio, which creates and produces products like candles that are sold in the STAR store. Georgelos wants to expand those opportunities by adding a coffee shop or some other retail business where participants can work.
“They want to earn their independence,” she says.
For more information, go to the STARability Foundation website.
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