Inclusion Matters

APRIL 2023

Lives of Distinction

Jacob and Monica Dominguez

The Ties That Bond

The Dalai Lama once said, “Give the ones you love wings to fly, roots to come back, and reasons to stay.” Through the steadfast support of those closest to them, the tight-knit family bonds they’ll hold onto forever, and the meaningful lives they’ve created for themselves, Jacob and Monica Dominguez are living proof of this decades-old adage.

Despite each having a disability, Jacob, who turns 34 this month, and his sister, Monica, 31, have lived independently together since their parents relocated seven years ago. Though living on their own isn’t always easy and life has presented its share of obstacles, things haven’t been nearly as difficult on the siblings as one might expect, due to the quality supports and services they receive and a number of caring people who have set them up for success.

“We take real good care of our home,” Jacob told us, explaining the important role he plays in maintaining the Dominguez household. “But our Mentors at Advocates help us with a lot,” Monica interjected, quick to give credit to their invaluable support staff. “They assist us with the things we can’t do ourselves, such as pay our bills.” Regardless of the ongoing support the Dominguezes require in some areas, their undeniable growth has been inspiring to those within their Circle of Support.

“I’ve watched them grow and am so grateful to be a part of their lives,” said Michelle Bellemare, Advocates Support Broker for the Dominguezes for 11 years. “It’s quite a feat to do what they do, and because their family lives out of state, it makes it so much more impressive,” she continued. Despite the miles that separate them, the family stays in touch daily through FaceTime calls. Their mother, Becky, is still committed to her children’s success, but empowers them to direct their own lives and achieve the goals each has set for themselves. “Their mother always encouraged them to be independent and therefore set high expectations for them,” Michelle said. “Because of that ongoing encouragement, they’ve accomplished so much and have their sights set on even bigger things.”

One of Monica’s greatest achievements is having recently graduated from Onondaga Community College with a degree in Humanities and Liberal Arts. Education did not come naturally to Monica, but she worked very hard to earn her degree in hopes of pursuing her goals. Her creative mind, a rooted interest in the arts, and related coursework in college fostered her dream of becoming a freelance writer and artist. To Monica, art and writing aren’t just passions of hers…they’re outlets that promote self-expression while relieving some stress at the same time. “Art has been so helpful to me, so I recommend that people with stress or anxiety give it a try,” Monica said. “She has gotten so much better at using different problem solving and coping techniques when she is dealing with challenges, and her Mentors deserve a lot of the credit for the support they provide her in that area,” Michelle added.

Monica isn’t the only one who has learned to constructively channel their emotions into something positive and worthwhile. Through coaching and support from his Mentors, Jacob has learned to destress through music. Singing has become a fun, effective, and therapeutic way for him to express himself in ways he may struggle to articulate. One of his newfound hobbies is making songs about the people and things that mean a lot to him. Jacob also finds pleasure in helping others, whether through volunteer initiatives or simply in his day-to-day life.

“Jacob can just sense when someone needs assistance, and is always willing to help people,” said his Mentor, Colleen Burgess. “He’s great at including people and making them feel welcomed,” added Abby Ekross, another of the Dominguezes’ standout Mentors. Jacob’s naturally caring and helpful ways led to an interest in working in law enforcement. “I want to help people if they get hurt or need help in an emergency,” he said. Jacob was afforded some hands-on experience when one of his previous Mentors, Tony, arranged a unique opportunity for him. Illustrating just how important Advocates’ Mentors are in helping people to achieve their dreams, Tony used his connections to facilitate a tour of the New York State Police Academy in Albany. There, Jacob explored its crime lab and various training facilities, and was introduced to both officers in training and the seasoned veterans training them. This experience is one that Jacob will remember forever, and one that only deepened his interest in the field.

Though Jacob and Monica each have long-term goals to benefit others, they’re already known to be of great service to their community. The siblings find much satisfaction and enjoyment in volunteering their time to local causes. Jacob particularly enjoys his experiences and responsibilities at Meals on Wheels, while Monica favors her work at Pawsitivitea CNY – a cat café which partners with local rescues and shelters.

Jacob and Monica also find joy in providing for their friends and family. Whether it’s through handmade greeting cards or entertaining guests, the Dominguezes’ generosity is as impressive as the skills they’ve garnered over time. The pair regularly prepares meals from scratch – either for themselves or for their friends. In fact, they’ve become so proficient in the kitchen that they hosted a “Friendsgiving” for more than a dozen friends from Advocates and their Mentors last year at holiday time. “Their culinary skills have come so far,” said Michelle when considering some of the extensive meals they’ve been known to make together. “And this is merely one example of not only an interest and skill that’s grown over time, but also just how far they’ve come with their independence.”

Other interests of Jacob’s include ceramics, journaling, shopping, going to the park, playing kickball, and anything related to Superman or Darth Vader. Monica loves reading about entertainment, working on her exercise regimen at the YMCA, fashion design, and of course, arts and crafts. Whatever the pair is doing, whether individually or together, they now have more confidence in their endeavors – and in themselves – than ever before. And although they’re separated by distance from the rest of their family, they take solace in knowing the other is always nearby, especially in difficult times.

“Sometimes I miss my family,” Jacob said. “We both do,” Monica chimed in, but added how fortunate they are to be able to visit their loved ones every year for the holidays. “We have our ups and downs, but we’ll always have each other.” Not only do they have each other, but they also have a dedicated team at Advocates that is there to assist them every step of the way. “Advocates just makes our community a better place for people with disabilities,” Monica said. “We couldn’t do it without our Mentors.”

“The teamwork among the Dominguezes’ circle of support is truly remarkable,” Michelle commented. “Their situation gives hope to other families that they can do the same, even if there are miles or even states separating them.” 

Clearly, Jacob and Monica were given the “wings to fly” on their own. Though distanced, their loving and nurturing family means the world to them, which justifies trips to visit as often as they can. But because of their immense growth and ongoing supports they receive, as well as the meaningful and enriched lives they now lead independently, Jacob and Monica have all the reasons in the world to stay in Central New York.

If you have a caring family member or friend who is looking for meaningful work and the opportunity to support someone as inspirational as Jacob and Monica, please encourage

them to apply on our website.

We look forward to meeting them!

Agency Updates

Autism Acceptance Month

April is National Autism Acceptance Month! This is a great time to acknowledge everyone who receives services from Advocates. We thank you for all that you teach the people in your life who have the honor of supporting you!

We'd also like to thank all of our 1,100+ Mentors, whose tireless work is beyond appreciated by Advocates and the many people we support!

National ASL Day

Did you know?

National ASL Day takes place on April 15 every year to celebrate American Sign Language. Sign language is an invaluable skill set for direct support staff, and can also expand opportunities to work in fields such as education, social work, human services, psychology, counseling, nursing, or criminal justice fields, to name a few.

If you or someone you know is interested in adding this proficiency to your resume, classes are available in our area! To learn more about Onondaga Community College's ASL Program, please click here.

Advocates Winter Party & Information Fair

After a 3-year hiatus, we were thrilled to again hold Advocates’ Winter Party & Information Fair! Many people we support, their family members and Mentors, community members, and vendors joined us for an

evening of friendship, food, entertainment, and connecting with various resources in our area!

Advocates would like to thank Le Moyne College for hosting the event, all of our attendees, and the many vendors who dedicated their time, including Aaron's Farm Inc., Access-VR, AccessCNY, ARC of Onondaga, ARISE, Bounce PT, Casey's Place, Challenger Baseball, CNY Mental Health, EFR, Elmcrest, Epilepsy Alliance America, EPI, Food Bank of CNY, Help Me Grow, ICI, InclusiveU / Taishoff Center, Jordyn Kravec, Jowonio, LaunchCNY, LIFEPlan, Meals on Wheels, Person to Person Advocacy, Prime Care, Purpose Farm, Radiant Abilities, Root Farm, SA FACE, Southern Tier Connect, Special Olympics CNY, Wladis Law Firm, and YMCA of CNY.

We also send our sincere thanks to the Advocates employees who coordinated the event, as well as those who graciously volunteered their time. We couldn’t have done it without your collective efforts!

Click here to view more photos from the fun-filled evening!

Reasons to Smile

Check this out!

The Community Heroes Program is a collaborative effort between the Syracuse Crunch and Amazon. This initiative highlights a local hero who has made a positive impact on the Syracuse community. From the essential and front-line workers to our charitable neighbors who volunteer their time, Central New York is home to many real-life heroes, whose hard work and dedication to others deserves recognition.

Advocates' own Nicholas Courgi was the recipient of March's award! Nicholas was a most-deserving nominee, as he has facilitated significant contributions through fundraising efforts to benefit Advocates. He has played an important role on the planning committees for Advocates' Stroll & Roll 5K, as well as its Annual Charity Golf Tournament. He has secured thousands of dollars’ worth of goods and services for Advocates, and we couldn't be more appreciative of his efforts.

Nicholas and his family were invited to the Crunch game on March 25th, where was honored on the public address system, highlighting his efforts and good works.

Amazon presented Nicholas with a $100 gift card, a team photo of the Crunch, and other assorted memorabilia.

We thank you, Nicholas,

and congratulate you

on this wonderful achievement!


Dial "988" for 24/7 mental health intervention

Too many people experience a suicidal crisis or mental health-related distress without the support and care they need. There are urgent mental health realities driving the need for crisis service transformation across our country.

There is hope! The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a national network of more than 200 crisis centers that helps thousands of people overcome crisis situations every day. The 988 Lifeline provides 24/7, confidential support to people in suicidal crisis or mental health-related distress. By calling or texting 988, you’ll connect to mental health professionals with the Lifeline network.

If you or a loved one is ever in a mental health crisis situation, we sincerely hope you will utilize this vital and potentially life-saving resource.

Click here for more info on the 988 hotline
Upcoming Events


Syracuse Crunch Game

Take advantage of the final Advocates-sponsored Syracuse Crunch game of the season!

People/families receiving services from Advocates along with employees are invited to join us on Saturday, Apr. 8th at 7pm as the Syracuse Crunch take on Laval Rocket. This is the final Advocates-sponsored game of the season, so we hope you can make it!

Discount tickets ($18) can be purchased by contacting Emily Kissinger: (315) 473-4444 ext. 126 or online at: using promotional code: ADVOCATES

Advocates Virtual Trainings

Dating skills needed to stay safe and happy,

including internet safety

Presented by: Kathy O'Connell | Radiant Abilities

April 19th @ 6pm

This workshop is aimed to educate participants on the skills required to navigate the dating world while prioritizing their safety and happiness. The importance of internet safety in the dating world is also highlighted, and participants will be taught to protect their personal information and avoid sharing sensitive details with strangers online. In addition, the workshop emphasizes the importance of taking care of oneself emotionally and mentally while navigating the dating world.

Maximizing Benefits and Services

Presented by: James Traylor | Rivent Partners

April 26th @ 6pm

In this training, we will focus on maximizing benefits and services:

The challenge of planning for the future of a loved one with special needs can extend into many areas, including education, housing, employment, support services, legal, financial, and other personal matters. All of these areas must be taken into consideration in order to develop a plan that meets the unique needs of each family. It is important for families to answer these important questions and plan for the future with the goals of independence, dignity, and quality of life for their loved one.

Finances 101: Money Concepts, Needs vs. Wants,

Budgeting and Identify Theft 

Presented by: Ashley Whitt | SFCU

May 24th @ 6pm

Learn about the basics of independently handling your finances. There will be an overview on the concepts of banking and managing an account independently. This will include understanding how your account works and navigating the basic financial world. We will also discuss budgeting and how important it is to have a plan and understand what a necessity is and what we may not necessarily need in the moment. There will also be information on identify theft and scams- examples of what is out there and how to stay safe! There will also be an opportunity for one on one coaching and direct contact with a specialist to assist with you all your questions and needs.

Click here to register for Advocates trainings

Advocates Virtual Talent & Art Show

Advocates is excited to announce the return of our annual Virtual Talent & Art Show! Advocates serves many people who are skilled in various areas of singing, writing, painting, and playing musical instruments, just to name a few. We welcome anyone interested in participating in the Talent & Art Show to submit a brief video, pictures, written work, etc. to

Talent will be displayed on Advocates' Facebook page beginning April 24th through April 28th.

Individuals that would like to participate in the 2023 Talent & Art Show must have a signed photo release form on file with Advocates. If you do not have a consent form on file, one will be provided for you to complete.

Brief videos or photos of your work must be submitted by Wednesday, April 19th. Along with sending videos and pictures, participants are encouraged to provide information they would like to share related to their artwork.

Here's one of our favorite submissions from previous years, courtesy of the talented Byron Lee!

Check out the video to the left for one of our favorite submissions from previous years, courtesy of the talented Byron Lee!

Click here to submit your talent!

Advocates 5th Annual Stroll & Roll

Our 5th Annual Stroll & Roll is right around the corner!

Register today!

Advocates Partners with American Red Cross

Save the date!

Advocates is partnering with the American Red Cross and hosting a blood drive on Thursday, June 22nd from 1-6pm in the Board Room, located at 290 Elwood Davis Road in


We thank you in advance for considering participating in this critical mission!

To help save a life, please click here