Mary Helen Darah
TJ Buchholz of Sylvania has joined The Ability Center team. He will work closely with the Director of the Ability Center, Stuart James, to lead program operations and to oversee all consumer and assistance dogs’ programs. Buchholz received his Bachelor’s of Sociology from Northwestern College and his Master’s in Sports Management from California University. He has been with the University of Toledo Athletic Department for the past seven years serving as the Head Women’s Soccer Coach. TJ and his wife, Candace, have three daughters that attend Highland Elementary and Northview High School.
Buchholz was thrilled when he learned of the opportunity to be part of The Ability Center. “I changed my entire career path for more life balance,” he stated. “As a coach you sacrifice a lot of time away from your family. Now I can be more present. We evaluated whether or not we wanted to stay in Sylvania. We have set roots in Sylvania and have grown to love the community. Another important factor in staying here is that our girls have enjoyed the Sylvania Schools. Of course, working at The Ability Center is a big job that requires tremendous dedication but coaching is 24/7 everyday of the week. I’m excited to have a chance to make a difference while being more present for my family.”
The new team member also looks forward to working with Director Stuart James. “Our director is so proactive and his stance on how to motivate the community in regards to individuals with special needs is energizing,” he stated. “I want to be here in this great atmosphere and be part of the incredible things they are doing locally as well as the rural areas.”
Buchholz believes his new position is the “perfect fit.” He stated, “When you are coaching you are serving people. I wanted to continue to be in a serving capacity and to give back to others and the community. The Ability Center has several new programs and services and they felt a program director was needed so they added this new position. I am in charge of overseeing the home accessibility program as well as durable medical equipment, where we supply people with any medical equipment they may need. I am also in charge of the Assistance Dog Program. My goal is to guide the programs and services to help reach our goals. It is a lot to learn and I am excited for my future here in helping achieve our mission.”
With the numerous programs and services offered, Buchholtz values the role of serving as a bridge to simplify the process for their leadership team. “I would like to provide an extra hand and set of eyes to help The Ability Center to thrive. I want to contribute to building upon the great things that are happening here and to enhance the strong name and brand we have in the community,” he said.
Nick Vargas has been with The Ability Center for two months as the director of development. He stated, “I started on Halloween and thought I was being pranked with people dressing up. I found that many just get into the creative spirit and it was a very fun first day here.”
Vargas has been a resident of the area since he graduated from university. Previously he was at St. John’s Jesuit in development. He believes in having a passion for the organization you represent and he has found that in his new position. “I was a teenager when my grandfather had part of his leg amputated a decade or so ago,” recalled Vargas. “The Ability Center built a ramp for him. I am grateful that he had the ability to get in and out of his home. My grandparents were working class people and they were not charged for this service. It would have been a hard thing for them to afford. That experience was very impactful and motivated me to work in fundraising for nonprofits.”
Vargas said that funds raised enhance and change lives. “Whether it’s building a ramp or providing a service dog to allow someone greater independence, it is incredible to connect people with our services and programs.”
The new development director also feels strongly about the larger focus of the organization’s mission. “At age two, my son was diagnosed with autism,” he said. “It touches me to know that The Ability Center wants Toledo to be the most accessible city for people with disabilities. Their mission really called to me and matched my skill sets and passion. Selfishly, I made the move here to help my son.”
Vargas is thankful for the opportunity to help the community. “We placed a new dog at Arbor Hills Junior High School that was sponsored by Directions Credit Union. To have a school facility dog connect with kids is so meaningful,” said Vargas. “Sponsors can also contribute to name a puppy and help fund the training that is required for a skilled companion dog or school community dog. Funds can also be allocated to help with durable medical equipment and ramps or to update bathrooms. These are done at no cost because we are able to raise funds to support these programs.”
Youth programming, such as music classes and socialization opportunities, are also offered. Currently the Center is trying to get more schools to offer athletic adaptive physical education classes to facilitate kids being comfortable interacting with people with disabilities. “One of our most important focuses is to enhance the acceptance of people living with disabilities,” said Vargas.
Vargas is excited for the year ahead and stated, “We have been around for over 100 years and our history speaks for itself. Disability is the largest minority group you can be in at any time. Some people are born with a disability and adapt and other people unfortunately may have an accident or injury that forces them to have a new normal. We want their lifestyle to continue. Our goal is to make certain that no matter what happens in someone’s life, they live in a community that is accepting and inclusive for all.”