News & Information > News Releases

October 1, 2019

CONTACT: Melanie Mowry Etters
Communication Director

Publix is a Home Away from Home for Kolja

By Zoe Linafelt and Margaret Cote

BELLEAIR BLUFFS, FL – From the very beginning, Azemina Kolja has been a very motivated and determined young lady. As soon as she moved into her Belleair Bluffs neighborhood, she decided that she wanted to work. She explored her area and found her local grocery store, Publix. She really liked the people who worked there, so she decided to ask about employment. They told her there weren’t any openings at that time but to apply anyway. Since she didn’t know how, she came in the store almost every day and got to know the staff.

In August 2018, Kolja began receiving services through the Employment Enhancement Program (EEP) and chose The Arc – Tampa Bay for her provider. Kolja immediately said she wanted to work at Publix. With the assistance of her Employment Specialist, she filled out a job application, interviewed, and was hired as a part-time bagger the next month. Her employer and her Employment Specialist helped train her for the job. She already had the social skills and personality to do a great job, and she learned skills like knowing which items could be bagged together.

Now, she bags groceries well, walks customers’ carts to their cars, returns carts, and completes other tasks when asked.

When asked why she likes having a job, she said, “I like to make money. I’m proud that I can help customers.”

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and APD is highlighting the workplace achievements of people with disabilities and the employers that hire them. Kolja has a developmental disability and receives services through the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.

Kolja’s best quality is her outgoing personality. She is always happy and greets everyone in the store, making them feel welcome. Many customers ask for her by name. Since she’s so sociable, she has become friends with many of her coworkers and makes it a special point to celebrate their birthdays.

Store Manager Miriam Odum said, “Azemina is not just an employee to us; we see her as family,” and added that Kolja is a great worker.

“She’s always joyful,” said Customer Service Manager Amber Carter. “She makes everybody feel happy – she makes me feel better! Sometimes, she comes in four hours early and talks to the older people waiting for a ride. She is very customer service-oriented, which is number one for us.”

APD supports people with developmental disabilities to live, learn, and work in their communities. The agency annually serves more than 55,000 Floridians with autism, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, intellectual disabilities, Down syndrome, Phelan-McDermid syndrome, and Prader-Willi syndrome. For more information about the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, visit or call toll free 1-866-APD-CARES (1-866-273-2273).