(Jupiter, Florida) – As we head to the movie theaters this holiday season, the common thread among us all is that we’re looking for a truly great story; a narrative that can expand our emotional bandwidth. One of the season’s best stories can be found at Cinepolis Jupiter, but it’s not a film that will appear on the big screen, rather it’s a tale of true grit, determination, compassion and support that’s happened behind the scenes. It’s a reminder of the goodness within.
Paula Mirabella has Muscular Dystrophy. She requires the use of a wheelchair to navigate her world. Paula has fought long and hard to find a job in her community; one that would utilize her skills and foster her love of people. “Paula wanted a job,” says Jenni Paine, a Career Resource Specialist with Work Opportunities Unlimited, “and we didn’t think that was too much to ask. Paula is amazing and has incredible skills to share, so we rolled up our sleeves and got to work.”
Jenni Paine spends her days breaking down the barriers to employment for people living with disabilities. “Our goal is to change the world of work. We operate from the premise that people with disabilities deserve to work independently in their communities, just like everybody else. We believe that all people can work, that everyone has something to contribute. Paula was eager to find a job but she was running into a lot of road blocks, says Paine. “She’s in wheel chair at all times so it was limiting the jobs that she could do.”
After months of hard work and opportunities that dissolved or didn’t quite fit, Mirabella was hired by Cinepolis. “She was hired to work four hours a day as a Box Office Agent. It was the perfect match that utilizes her customer service skills in a genuine way. She loves to engage with customers, she troubleshoots any problems they may have and she works hard to make a visit to Cinepolis a great experience for all who walk through the doors.”
It was a dream job come true for Paula and it wasn’t long before the general manager took note and approached her about expanding her hours. “This is where things got a little tricky, and a little awkward too,” says Paine. “Paula was incredibly pleased but she had to explain that there was an on-site barrier that prevented her from taking advantage of his offer.”
Cinepolis Jupiter, home to both traditional and luxury cinema experiences, is a new, state-of the art theater that’s handicapped accessible, but in the restroom Paula needs a special lift to help her transfer from the wheelchair. “It’s special adaptive equipment that most public restrooms don’t have,” says Paine. “To compensate for this challenge, she would wake early in the morning to build in enough time so that she could have her breakfast, something to drink and use the bathroom before heading to work. Then she’d work her shift without anything to eat or drink because she didn’t want to be faced with the consequences of not being able to access the facilities. Just imagine needing to use a restroom and not being able to, until you get yourself home. The amazing thing is when she told the general manager, his response was ‘what can we do?’”
Mirabella explained that there was a lift system that could be installed in the restroom but it would be quite the undertaking. The manger asked again, “what do we need to do to make this happen?” That’s when Mirabella sprang into action. She approached Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) and asked if they could assist Cinepolis with the challenge of installing the adaptive lift. Cinepolis Corporate Office gave their approval and VR sent over the architect to see if it was even feasible.
“What’s amazing is that Cinepolis has been through some management changes since the project began,” says Paine, “but every manager, including the current GM Shawn Temme, continued to support Paula and the goal of getting the lift installed.”
“Paula is an incredible person,” says Temme. “Given the challenges she’s dealt with in her life she’s super kind and thoughtful and she always wants to do more regardless of her disability; I never worry about the front of the house when Paula’s on duty. She’s the first person that welcomes our guests, she’s always there with a big smile and a positive attitude. I wish I had a dozen more employees like her so, from my perspective, it was important to maximize Paula’s time here and make sure that everything was in place for her to do her job. I didn’t start the process with Paula but she has worked hard to knock down those barriers that were an issue for her, I feel strongly about supporting her.”
After months of approval processes, safety and building impact studies by engineers, planning procedures, and collaborative efforts with VR, construction got underway. It took about a year but the adaptive equipment is now in place.
“It was definitely worth the investment of time and resources,” says Temme. “For me it was always about what I see in Paula. Her disability is a non-issue, I value her as individual that is beyond capable. I see someone that makes a difference and can do the job. I know what a quality employee is and if you find a quality person like Paula, you better do all you can do to hold on to her.”