Supporting Individuals With Disabilities

By Scott Nishimoto, community outreach and advocacy specialist, Abilities Unlimited

In 2008, Gary Hernando suffered a stroke. This stroke stole his eyesight, his mobility and his carpentry career, yet somehow spared his upbeat outlook on life. Despite being told that he would spend the rest of his life wheelchair-bound and blind, Gary remembers telling himself, “The day I get out of rehab, I’m going to beat this.”


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Scott Nishimoto

Four years later, Gary is certainly beating this. Abilities Unlimited, a local nonprofit that provides community-based support to individuals with disabilities, assisted him in obtaining a volunteer position at 5th Floor Café. Located in the Department of Health building on Punchbowl Street, 5th Floor Café is Abilities Unlimited’s training facility for persons with disabilities who strive to develop the skills to eventually gain competitive employment.

“5th Floor was my first step in getting out into the world again,” said Gary, who recently obtained a position at Navy Exchange, his first paid job since his stroke. “Now I get to continue my life like I was before.” He attributes his memorable experience at 5th Floor to head chef Josh Nieblas and owner Norman Ota. Gary describes Josh as a “Grade A cook” and Norman as “the kind of person who gives more than he receives.”

“I like the idea of training our volunteers to get jobs outside of 5th Floor,” Norman explains. “It makes my time here worthwhile.” It’s also worth noting that Norman is legally blind. But, being the modest, selfless person that he is, he continuously reminded me to “make this article about Gary.”

Gary is just one of many success stories that have come through the doors of Abilities Unlimited and 5th Floor. He also asked to recognize the staff at the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific.

If you would like to support Abilities Unlimited, we simply ask that our readers work compassionately together with individuals with disabilities to create more success stories like Gary’s. If you would like to support the 5th Floor Café, here’s a message from Norman: Present a cutout of this article and receive a complimentary homemade cookie with any purchase.

Tell them Gary sent you.

For more information on Abilities Unlimited, call 532-2100 or visit