Melissa Caylor is a passionate advocate , who truly understands the often emotionally frustrating saga that is exceptional student education- she has lived it. Her daughter, Allison, was born with Down Syndrome, and Melissa quickly realized that she would need to be a fierce advocate for her child. In 1996, when Allison was 3, with school enrollment approaching, Melissa began attending countless trainings and workshops to build her knowledge and skills as an educational advocate. She soon wanted to not only empower herself, but other parents in similar circumstances.
Melissa joined STAND in 1996, and took charge when leadership began to burn out. She partnered with attorney Mark Kamleiter to restructure the organization to better serve the needs of parents in Pinellas County. By breaking into chapters, they were able to hold monthly meetings and bring in speakers to address special education issues. This lasted for several years before Melissa needed a break.
Around 2006, Melissa and another parent formed SPARC ( STAND Pinellas Accessing Resources Conference), to once again meet an urgent need in the community of parents of students with disabilities. SPARC worked in collaboration the PCSB to provide parents with a “one stop shop” to address a wide variety of needs. The conference would take over an entire school for a day, running 10 to 12 break-out sessions per hour, and having over 100 vendors on site. The last event that was held had over 900 people in attendance! Due to personal circumstances, Melissa again needed a break from her leadership role, although she continued to actively participate in local and state Down Syndrome support groups, where she was often asked to be a speaker.
In 2013, when Mark Kamleiter had an opening for an advocate, Melissa was ready to serve once again. Mark had previously worked with Melissa, and knew she would be a valuable asset to the SELA team, and for several years she has been providing experienced service to our clients.
Melissa feels that her biggest accomplishment has been the rich, full life that her daughter, Allison, now leads. Melissa tirelessly fought for Allison’s right to a meaningful education, and now Allison is a functional member of our community, working in the food industry at a job she loves, and looking forward to a bright future as a chef. Melissa passionately feels that all children, regardless of their disability, have a right to an education that meets their individual needs, and will fiercely advocate for that right.