Our Staff

At Ability1st we are a team. We work together, debate strategy, and cheer each other on. We are passionate about what we do and inspired by our mission to empower people with disabilities to live independently and enhance their quality of life.

People

Mandy Bianchi

Executive Director, aka Team Captain

As team leader, Mandy Bianchi is a busy lady. She oversees Ability1st staff and programs, grant management, directs consumer services, fundraising, community relations, and human resources. Though she was born in Norfolk, Virginia, she was raised in Tallahassee and is an active member of the community. A typical day in the office for Mandy includes at least one Zoom meeting, lots of phone calls with community partners and prioritizing where she can be most helpful to our organization. She is inspired each day by her family and her personal motto is to remain focused, flexible and friendly in all situations.

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Andrea Wiggins

Family Housing Coordinator

Andrea Wiggins was born in Fort Lauderdale, raised in Jefferson County, and has lived in Tallahassee for more than 10 years. In her position at Ability1st flexibility is key, because each day is different. She works to secure housing for Big Bend families by conducting housing site visits, helping consumers complete applications, and working to secure necessary housing supplies and furniture. Her favorite moment at Ability1st was completing a zip line team building exercise at the staff retreat. “I have a fear of heights, so just considering making the climb, then making it to the top felt great,” she said. Wiggins hero is her mother and she is inspired everyday by life and hope.

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Astoria Harris

Outreach Coordinator

Astoria Harris is an Outreach Coordinator at Ability1st, where she works with many of the community's unsheltered population. Her favorite part of the job is the opportunity to change lives. Her typical day involves meeting with consumers and serving them the best way she can. Astoria grew up in Fort Lauderdale, but is originally from Jacksonville. Her hero is her Aunt JJ, and she is inspired by improving the past versions of herself.

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Barbara Groves

Director of Finance

Barbara Groves's typical work day is spent working on grant management. Her favorite moment at Ability1st was attending a team-building retreat and her hero is her mother. Groves is inspired by giving to others and her favorite ice cream flavor is butter pecan.    

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Bruce Weaver

Independent Living Coordinator

Bruce Weaver is originally from Chicago, IL and has called Tallahassee home for nearly 30 years. His typical day at Ability1st is spent assisting consumers complete applications and locate housing. He also trains consumers living with a disability on how to use the Tallahassee public transportation system, which is essential to living independently. Weaver’s favorite moment at Abilty1st was participating in a Torch Relay race, an American with Disabilities Act celebration held with staff, community members, and consumers together. He is inspired by the opportunity to make a difference in his community and his hero is Jackie Robinson. When asked about his special skill, Weaver, who has a visual impairment, jokes he is the agency palm reader.

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Camille Lewis

Accommodation Assistant

Originally from Dallas, Texas, Camille Lewis lived in Hawaii and California before settling in Florida. At Ability1st, Camille is an Accommodation Assistant for Independent Living Coordinator Bruce Weaver. She spends a typical working together with Weaver to assist his consumers with their independent living plans. Her favorite part of the job is seeing the excitement a consumer has when a living plan goal is reached. Lewis says she is inspired by the Word of God and her hero is Jesus Christ.  

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Chris Carlberg

High School High Tech/Youth Transition Coordinator

Chris Carlberg is originally from Clermont, FL, but most importantly 30 minutes from Disney. He has lived in Tallahassee for nine years, which is unfortunately much further from Disney. As Youth Transition and HSHT Coordinator, Chris spends his days setting up fun activities, guest speakers from the community, and providing career and life skills training for the young adults in his programs. He has worked in education for his entire professional career and is excited to continue that work with this fantastic organization. Chris’ hidden talent is being the best Connect 4 player this side of the Mississippi and his favorite ice cream is the hot fudge sundae from McDonald’s.

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Dee Humose

Housing Coordinator, A Place Called Home

Dee Humose has worked at Ability1st for 15 years. In her current position, she helps those who have been chronically homeless find and remain in stable housing. This includes providing wrap-around services such as addressing the factors that lead to homelessness, and teaching the budgeting and social skills necessary to live independently. Her favorite moment at Ability1st is receiving the 2010 Celebration of Human Services Above and Beyond Award from the United Partners for Human Services. Humose is inspired by people who are excited by life no matter their circumstances. She claims to have no hidden talents, but makes a green smoothie each morning her Ability1st teammates have nicknamed “Dee’s swamp juice,” which seems to ensure a positive attitude and a smile for everybody in the office.

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Jackie Fortmann

Deputy Director

Ability1st Deputy Director, Jackie Fortmann, was born and raised in Dubuque, Iowa. She moved to Tallahassee ten years ago to attend Florida State University and has called it home ever since. Her duties include providing program and staff management for three Ability1st programs including,VOCA, High School/High Tech and Access to Independence. Jackie’s motto is “perseverance;life is not always easy, but never give up.” Her hero is her mom, and her favorite junk food is pizza.

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Kimberly Blan

Mental Health Outreach/Benefits Specialist

During a typical day Kimberly Blan assists consumers with accessing resources in the community as well as helping them apply for Social Security Insurance and Social Security Disability Insurance.Originally from Opp, AL, Kimberly enjoys being a part of the Ability1st team and is inspired by helping people in the Big Bend area. Her hero is her mother and her favorite ice cream is Blue Bell Butter Pecan. Kimberly says she does not have a hidden talent, but we believe she just hasn’t discovered it yet.

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Kimberly Lyles

Intensive Supportive Housing Specialist

Kimberly Lyles, Intensive Supportive Housing Specialist, has a daily goal to find something good about at least one of her consumers for them to feel great about. A native Floridian, her hidden talent is bargain-shopping and her favorite junk food is homemade rice crispy treats. Kimberly greets everyone at the office with a smile and enjoys “finding sunshine in my consumers.”

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Laura Bentley

Identification Specialist

Originally from Long Island, New York, Laura Bentley moved to the Tallahassee area as a young adult. She fell in love with the area and stayed to raise her family. She lives in Wakulla County where she enjoys horseback riding, biking, kayaking on the river and sitting on the porch with a good book. As Ability1st's Identification Specialist, Laura spends her day helping consumers obtain replacement identification necessary for housing and employment. She says the peace of her surrounding and the words of a good bookkeep her inspired and hopeful. 

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Marquesas Blimes

Nursing Home Diversion Specialist/Youth Transition Specialist

A typical day for Marquesas Blimes is spent helping people living with a disability stay in their homes rather than move to a nursing home. Originally from Savannah, GA, her favorite moments at Ability1st are receiving phone calls from consumers who lives have been improved because of our programs. Blimes is inspired by hard work, kindness and forgiveness and her hidden talent is baking the world’s best chocolate chip cookie.

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Pamela Sykes

Mental Health Outreach Coordinator

Pamela Sykes is originally from Newark, NJ. At Ability1st, she provides information and referrals to consumers with mental health and substance abuse issues. She is often in the community or at outreach sites meeting with consumers directly. When not at work, Sykes enjoys making jewelry and gardening. Her favorite ice cream flavor is butter pecan and her hero is her mother. She is inspired by LIFE.

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Renee Kissel

Outreach Coordinator

Originally from Greenville, NC, Renee Kissel's typical day includes stopping into the office to check phone messages and emails before going into the community for her scheduled appointments with consumers.  Her favorite part of her job is being able to meet with consumers outside of an office setting and helping them obtain stable housing. Renee's hero is her father, and she is inspired by her family and friends. Her hidden talent is riding her horse to practice improving jumping him.

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Sally Failma

Public Relations Specialist

Sally Failma is originally from South Bend, IN and has called Tallahassee home since 2003. She is inspired by the work her Ability1st teammates do in the Big Bend community and spends her day promoting it on social media, the internet, and to the press. Failma’s hero is her Aunt Sally and favorite ice cream is Sherman’s milky way.

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Savannah Middlebrooks

Access to Independence Program Specialist

Savannah Middlebrooks was born and raised in Tallahassee, FL. She starts her day at Ability1st by returning phone calls and catching up on paperwork. She spends much of the afternoon assisting people who require durable medical equipment (DME) loans or want to donate items to our DME supply closet. Middlebrooks is inspired by spouses who become caregivers and says everyday she has the privilege of witnessing what real love looks like. Her hidden talent is she can read backwards and upside down at the same speed she reads right side up. Her favorite ice cream is cookies and cream and her hero is Lakey Love, a local advocate.

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Shelley Shaul

Office Manager, SHIP Coordinator

Shelley Shaul is originally from Miami, FL but has lived in many parts of the country including Reno, NV; Kansas City, MO; Omaha, NE; Atlanta, GA; and Emerald Isle, NC. Each workday at Ability1st is an adventure as she assists consumers and staff with requests, qualifies SHIP consumers and provides modifications to their homes to help them continue to live independently. Her favorite moments at Ability1st are the smiles, hugs, blessings, and thank yous she receives from consumers who have received services. She inspired by people who show love and understanding no matter what their circumstances are and people who feel weak or scared, but still take a leap of faith and try something outside their comfort zone. Shaul’s favorite ice cream flavors are mint chocolate chip and Ben & Jerry’s Everything But The.

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Tina Ferfort

Administrative Assistant

Tina Ferfort was born and raised in New Jersey and has lived in Florida since the mid-90s. She currently has two jobs; one as Administrative Assistant at Ability1st and the other as family caregiver. In each role, she helps people living with a disability handle issues that arise throughout the day so they can live happier, healthier lives. Her favorite moment at Ability1st was comforting a fellow caregiver who was struggling. It was a bonding moment she won’t forget. Ferfort’s inspiration comes from her Christian faith as she admires the generous spirit of the saints throughout history. Her secret skill anticipating what people need before they ask for it

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Wanda McKenzie

Mental Health Outreach/Benefits Specialist

Wanda McKenzie operates at a fast-pace as she works to assist and link Ability1st consumers to resources in the community they need to live independently. She advocates on their behalf and helps them apply for Social Security benefits. McKenzie has many hidden talents including making diaper cakes, planning parties, crocheting and making cake pops. Her heros are her mother and grandmother and she is inspired by her faith and being able to help individuals improve their circumstances in life.

Ability First Logo

Ability1st, the Center for Independent Living of North Florida, is a community-based nonprofit organization that provides services to persons with varying disabilities. Ability1st serves Leon, Jefferson, Madison, Taylor, Gadsden, and Wakulla counties.