Tony Carvajal has deep roots in Florida’s business community and last week began leading The Able Trust, an organization that helps people with disabilities find jobs.
Carvajal, the former executive vice president of the Florida Chamber Foundation, began as president and CEO of The Able Trust about two months after Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran shook up the non-profit, which serves the Department of Education’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.
Amid concerns about possible misuse of money, Corcoran demanded the resignation of the organization’s leaders and ordered it to cut ties with a charitable foundation created without authorization from the Legislature. Carvajal said Corcoran’s demands have been addressed, including the foundation returning just over $3.2 million to The Able Trust.
The News Service has five questions for Tony Carvajal:
Q: What enticed you to go from the Florida Chamber Foundation to The Able Trust?
CARVAJAL: I got some interest in this. I’m not a rabid advocate, but I moved into this because it really is an opportunity to make a difference for Florida in the future and a special population that really has some potential. It’s not just preparing the person with a disability for meaningful employment, it’s also ensuring that businesses open up slots to make sure that somebody goes in there. So, I’m looking forward to opening the business side.
Q: Were you surprised to learn about the shakeup at The Able Trust and the allegations the organization faced?
CARVAJAL: I was surprised. There are things that I still keep uncovering. I think that there are a lot of folks that were trying to do the right thing, and lack of communication at times may have created more of a crisis than needed to be created. The good news is that in a very short amount of time, things have corrected themselves. All the money has been transferred back into The Able Trust. Now, we have good leadership. The staff that was at The Able Trust really showed their commitment to the mission of the organization. Commissioner Corcoran and his deputy chief of staff, Bethany Swonson, and I have worked hand-in-hand with The Able Trust to really settle all of this. And I guess, it’s what, 45 days since everything really broke to today. And we’re in a very solid place.
Q: Can you tell me how the transition has been? Any big items left in your to-do list?
CARVAJAL: Actually, the great thing is before I started, I’d have to say that 99 percent of the stuff was already fixed and in order. So, when I started, I got to start as if it’s any new job, which is understanding the vision and what the potential is, meeting with the staff … and understanding what they do with the organization and what the potential is. It’s hard to believe with everything (that’s been reported) that it’s been a regular start of a new job, but it really has. The staff at The Able Trust really focused their energy on keeping the operations going and making sure that nothing was dropped in gaps while there were questions. They made it so easy to walk in. But we’re not completely out of the woods, The Able Trust is still up for sunset review (by the Legislature) in three years.
Q: I want to know more about your vision for The Able Trust. How does it match the vision that Gov. Ron DeSantis and Corcoran have for the organization?
CARVAJAL: We have a three-part vision. It’s empowering persons with disabilities through education so that they can find meaningful employment. That’s going to be the mission. Anybody that gets appointed, that is what we are going to do. Now, fundraising is going to be a part of this because the division of vocational rehab actually takes care of the work in many ways, and what we are there to do is support the department to meet the unmet needs. Anything that they can’t do because of either federal regulations, lack of dollars or lack of time. We try to fill some gaps. I think what you’re going to see done that maybe was a little differently than in the last 10 years, for the next 10 years, is the business engagement. The star is rising on awareness for diversity and inclusion of persons with disabilities in the workforce. And companies are recognizing that it’s not just a social mission. It is a great thing to do (for businesses).
Q: You have pretty deep roots in the business community. Are there specific challenges you see for businesses when it comes to hiring people with disabilities?
CARVAJAL: The greatest challenge that I’ve seen for those in the business community has nothing to do with a person with disability. What they have is a constant challenge to find great talent that is ready to do the work. And this perception that there are additional challenges …. makes it tough to hire anybody. What I tell businesses is that there are actually a lot of support systems. Your question was about what the barriers are that businesses have. The reality is, it’s all about perceptions. And what we find is that when you hire a person with disabilities, they’re not only on the job longer, and more loyal and able to commit to work more consistently, but the business itself changes and becomes a different organization, more responsive and more inclusive.