ENGLEWOOD — Jenna Lonsdale didn’t let her disability define her. She proudly worked at Nielsen Market Research Company in Venice. She did great there until she lost her job when the office closed.
The 28-year-old Englewood resident was one of 396 workers laid off in April. In five years, she had only missed one day of work. She was told to file for unemployment. There were several setbacks for Lonsdale. She doesn’t drive and there’s no public transportation from her neighborhood to areas where she could apply for work at area pet stores, day care centers or libraries.
“The problem is unemployment tells you to apply for five jobs a week,” she said. “It’s very hard to do when you don’t drive.”
Another challenge with her disability is she fidgets when she’s nervous and believes it sometimes doesn’t make for a good first impression. A little frustrated, Lonsdale needed help but wasn’t sure where to turn.
Her life changed after learning about the Return To Work program in Punta Gorda. It helps job seekers engage with employers. It also matches client interests, abilities and aptitudes that helps get them a long-lasting job they enjoy and find rewarding.
It’s where she met Fran Nixon, the Missions Operations Manager, and her team. They worked to help Lonsdale connect with local employers and transition back to work.
In time, Lonsdale had the training she needed to go to work at a preschool a short distance from her home.
Lonsdale recently shared her testimony as an honored guest at a special awards ceremony for Nixon at Boca Royale Golf & Country Club in Englewood.
Nixon was bestowed the Lifetime Achievement Award signed by President Donald Trump.
The Charlotte County resident, who is in her 80s, was lauded for volunteering more than 1,000 hours in a year and given a gold medal and 4,000 accumulative hours.
Nixon, who helped her own son Rob Brazell, found Return To Work 20 years ago in Colorado, is considered a “tough as nails, but always a lady.”
Nixon expanded the program in Florida and managed the contract with Florida’s Vocational Rehabilitation agency. She also provided services to newly enabled job seekers, a job that caused her to travel statewide to meet them and their families and the employers. She periodically attends White House teleconferences, advocates the Return To Work program throughout the region and recruits new applicants, works with mentors and other volunteers in the Service Learning Internship mission.
“Part of Mom’s daily task is to pray for Return To Work clients and all of the people that it touches,” Brazell said.
Brazell told the crowd his mother exceeded the requirements for the President’s Volunteer Service award. She was given an official pin, medallion and a framed certificate. The award is an initiative of the Corporation for National and Community Service and administered through the Points of Light organization. It celebrates the impact people can make in their community and the world.
Nixon credits her success in helping touch the lives of 8,500 applicants and others throughout the year to God. She is a member of the First Church of Christ Scientists in Englewood and the mother church in Boston.
“We have a very diverse organization with no limits to make a difference for abled to disabled clients,” she said. “We work with a hodgepodge of people who will fit in regardless of their background. It takes a nation to help.”
Nixon said she had to learn the software for the system. With the help of Brazell, she said, it made a difference in advancing their program and even more people find jobs.
Nixon shared several success stories. She also thanked Nikki D’Agostino, the client services specialist at Return to Work for her drive in positive outcomes and lasting placements for local employees. She also thanked her son and close friends who never let her down. She said local companies including Weiler Engineering Corp. in Punta Gorda and several others have been instrumental in helping provide meaningful jobs to Return to Work clients.
Shortly after meeting Hosea Cannon, a pastor and chaplain at the Denver Sheriff’s Department, Nixon joked she loved him and wanted to adopt him as her own. Cannon flew in to give an inspirational speech at Nixon’s ceremony.
Cannon reinforced Nixon’s lifelong choices in helping others. He explained there’s simple keys to success in life.
“God is in control,” he said. “Don’t sweat the small stuff. Appreciate your family and learn to love them. Forgive immediately your sister, mother, brother. Focus on what’s good. Be kind.Volunteer often. Look down on others to only help them up. Love your neighbors as you love yourself.”
For more information about Nixon’s program, visit www.return2work.org.