We had the good fortune of connecting with Natalia Wong and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Natalia, let’s start with a hypothetical. What advice would you give to someone facing insurmountable odds?
I think it’s important to always have a clear vision for both your personal and professional life. It is critical to understand your purpose and calling so that your decisions can be made with this in mind. If these insurmountable odds must be faced and overcome for you to achieve your vision, then you have to trust and know that you and your team or community are equipped to face these insurmountable odds. It is also important to always surround yourself with a team or community that is aligned with your vision and that share your values. You can’t start defining your vision and values when you are facing a difficult challenge. Your vision, team and values are the foundations you need in place to face the insurmountable odds.

Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Our community has placed barriers on adults with developmental disabilities due to years of misconceptions and quick judgments. According to the CDC: Disabilities affect approximately 56.7 million, or nearly 1 in 5 (18.7%) people in the United States. Here at The WOW Center, our mission is to correct misconceptions and break barriers down through collaboration with our local community. Our program was home-grown over thirty years ago out of the deepest desire of those who care most for adults with disabilities (their parents) to create a safe, loving, encouraging environment for individuals to thrive. WOW today is both the fulfillment and continuance of that mission. Our program model addresses the whole individual, so that their personal growth and emotional growth are supported and prioritized. Our Social Services Department works closely with families and state agencies to ensure our individuals’ personal, physical, emotional and medical needs are addressed and respected. Our teachers and education team work on helping our individuals have access to research-based programs and interventions to help them reach their potential, our Community Based Education Team (CBE) connects individuals to the community at large and encourages their practice of skills learned at WOW beyond our walls, and our WOW Workforce Team connects their abilities to their community so they find purpose and a sense of belonging through employment and internship opportunities. To provide the comprehensive support the individuals need to achieve this goal, we have tailor-made a support network to fill the gap in services and guidance that exists for this population. It is the integrated approach that we have in supporting each individual that makes WOW unique. All of our programs work together for one ultimate goal- the support of the individual.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Miami is such a vibrant and resilient community! I know we will bounce back stronger than ever and I am looking forward to the day I can have some time in Miami with my best friend. I would recommend splitting the trip between Miami classics and the new-exciting-worth-checking-out locations! I would make sure we start every day with cafecito, Cuban bread tostada, and a croqueta picked up at any ventanita! I would make sure we visit Coconut Grove and spend some time at Peacock Park. I am a mom of two boys so finding locations that are fun and kid friendly are a priority. At Peacock Park we can enjoy brunch at Glass and Vine while the kids run around in the playground. Visiting Calle Ocho and the Domino Park is a must and I recommend spending an afternoon there so you can ultimately end up salsa dancing at Ball and Chain, ending the night with ice cream at Azucar! Last but not least, I would spend most of the days on the Beach!

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
This is a very timely question based on our current situation! Covid-19 was our insurmountable odd at The WOW Center (WOW). The WOW Center is an organization committed to making Miami a more inclusive community by empowering adults with developmental disabilities to reach their potential based on their unique abilities. When we closed our doors on March 17th we really did not know what the future of WOW looked like. Due to our challenging funding systems and state requirements, virtual programming was not allowed for our service type. However, because our vision was clear and we remained committed to it through this pandemic, we decided to start developing a virtual program that would work for the population we serve. When we started designing and implementing this delivery method, we did not know if we would get reimbursed by the state for all of the time and effort, we poured into it. However, we knew that our mission to serve our individuals during this crisis was a priority. They needed to connect with their teachers, they needed to continue growing through this season and they deserved an opportunity to embrace technology just like everyone else around them was doing. Covid-19 required the team at WOW to pivot faster than we ever have before! We transitioned all of our programs to virtual/remote content within a week of closing. I have always admired the team at WOW, but this experience has enhanced this appreciation. Our team includes teachers, teacher aides, social workers and our admin team. They all exemplified our values and remained flexible and committed as we navigated unknown territory. I am honored to work alongside them and because of them, 33 days after launching our virtual/remote programming, it got approved by the State of Florida as a reimbursable program for the population we serve! The staff members at WOW deserves this Shoutout!

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