PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) – The local star of an independent film based upon his life is bringing education, empathy and inclusion to the workplace for those with disabilities.
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Tampa native, Sam Piazza was born with Down Syndrome. A condition in which a child is born with an extra copy of their 21st chromosome. This causes physical and mental developmental delays and disabilities.
What makes Sam unique is his abilities and accomplishments, many of which he achieved with the the support of family and friends in the Tampa Bay Area community.
After reading about Sam in Tampa newspapers, producer Renee Warmack says she was compelled to share his story with the world. “I just was absolutely riveted and so impressed with him and all that he was achieving and all that he had overcome in the article, it just was fantastic. I was just very driven to go find his family and see if I could make a movie about his life.”
Upon Warmack connecting with Sam and his family and sharing her intentions of directing a movie about his life, Sam was excited to star in his first movie. He reflects, “I felt a little bit honored that Renee is doing this for me; coming from her, it just puts me to tears. It really just puts a smile on my face, every single time.” Determined to share his message of inclusion with others, Sam says of himself and others with Down Syndrome, “We’re the same, like everybody else.”
Warmack says the movie went far beyond just touching the lives of others. It’s now evolved into an entire educational program. “We believe [that] touching hearts changes minds. And we were seeing it happen and it wasn’t just like, ‘oh this is a cute movie…’ I mean we were seeing people really go, ‘Wow, I have learned so much!’ and they were so inspired.”READ MORE: Small plane crashes into Florida bridge, killing one person and injuring five
After receiving such an overwhelmingly positive critical response, Warmack and Piazza developed a full-proof program aimed to change the way employers and employees view colleagues with disabilities.
Warmack describes that “companies can buy a license for the movie. They get the educational study guide that their facilitator at their organization can use, or I can facilitate it. I can bring Sam if he’s available. He works at PDQ during the week but, he’s usually flexible and can go with me if they’d like and they always love him there.”
Warmack says “empathy is really understanding or actually feeling what someone else is going through and that’s a big thing that’s lacking in the workplace right now.”
Sam feels spreading awareness is the key to inclusion. He adds that companies not wanting to hire someone with an intellectual or mental disability is effectively stripping that person of their independence and ultimately inclusion. “You’re going to take a job away from somebody who really wants a job and they want to have money in their bank account and save up for something.”
Warmack says the movie helps viewers to better understand the daily challenges of someone with a disability. “Because of Sam really drives home that point because you see all aspects of Sam Piazza’s life.” She hopes to change the way employers view applicants with disabilities and the way they are viewed in the hiring process. “Organizations that participate in the Because of Sam Educational Program really are enlightened and will understand the abilities of people who have disabilities versus focusing on the disabilities.”MORE NEWS: Former Jacksonville Jaguars kicker sues team
To learn more about Sam, his successes and the program he inspired, visit becauseofsamthemovie.com.