Innovative Placements: Helping Others Succeed
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By Tess Moran

Andrea Todaro grew up in Cheektowaga, but her heritage is much more exotic. While travelling in Spain as a young graduate her mother met a dashing Spaniard who swept her off her feet and followed her back to the United States where they lived for several years in New Mexico with Andrea. “I spoke Spanish before I spoke English! My first words were Dame lo (Give me that!)” Andrea’s Spanish lineage is an impressive one — her paternal grandmother, for whom she is named, was a famous artist and opera singer in Barcelona during the 70s and 80s. 

It should come as no surprise then that Andrea’s talents include opera singing. She has been a soprano singer for the past 20 years and, most recently, made her international debut in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi with the International Young Artists Project in Italy. She has also performed at New York Lyric Opera, Rochester Opera, Florida Lyric Opera, and the Kavinoky Theatre, to name a few. “When I sing classical and Broadway music, I hope to calm, heal, and inspire others, and to make their day a bit brighter and their step a little lighter!” 

When Andrea was 9 her mother remarried, and the family moved to Eden where she attended high school. “My stepdad has been the greatest influence of my life. He’s the hardest worker and has more zest for life than anyone I know!” Andrea’s parents are both retired schoolteachers, and as Andrea calls them “professional clowns!” Although her parents are well into their 80s, they are still avid ballroom and jitterbug dancers.

Andrea earned a degree in Psychology from State University of New York at Fredonia, but fell into a caretaking position in a group home environment after graduation. It was there, while working with young adults with disabilities that she found her calling. “I just loved their compassion and empathy for one another. If I was having a bad day I would come to work, and they would make me feel amazing!”

Not wishing to take a managerial position in the group home she accepted a position as an employment developer with a local company so that she could continue working face-to-face with people. It was in this position that she established the essential business contacts that enabled her to set up her own company, which was born out of a desire to help access the untapped pool of quality workers she saw being underutilized, even marginalized, due to a disability. “What I loved about this role was seeing people earn a decent living and be recognized for their ability to contribute to society.” 

Andrea forged her own path in 2001 and created Innovative Placements, a company focused on placing people with disabilities in employment. This year she celebrates 20 years of being in business, and in that time, has successfully secured employment for over 3000 individuals. She describes her business as a “matching making service with the ability to retool, rebrand, and repackage a person who might otherwise be overlooked.” Her favorite aspect of the work has been witnessing individuals go from the lowest point in their lives to becoming glowing success stories. 

Currently, Andrea is living in her Florida winter retreat with her fiancé where she is working remotely. She says that 2020 was a challenging year but she used the downtime during the pandemic to write a book of poetry influenced by her daily encounters with her Florida neighbors and the local flora and fauna. The book is scheduled to be published this year. She describes it as, “poetry with a dose of social commentary and humor.” 

Andrea says the things that are important to her are “making others happy, getting them to laugh, and enjoying the finer aspects of life.” She says that her aim in both her personal and business life is to help others fulfil their goals and become a better version of themselves. “I feel that one of my strengths is seeing the unique gifts in each person I encounter, and helping them uncover, rediscover, and realize them. It makes me very excited when those closest to me, my friends, family, and clients succeed!”

Andrea says she is a big believer in the three Ds: Dedication, Determination, and Drive. “Success is a combination of putting yourself out there, scanning for opportunities, seizing them, and following through. If you are passionate, talented and there is a demand for your skills, you can accomplish absolutely anything!”

Tess Moran is a photographer and writer for Buffalo Healthy Living.