Theme park employees find new career paths following pandemic shutdown

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — It was a monumental move.

Both Walt Disney World and Universal Studios closed last March, and Orlando’s tourism industry came to a complete stop.

But that left thousands of people across Central Florida unemployed.

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Nick Caturano was furloughed from Disney’s Hollywood Studios after almost 15 years, and filing for unemployment was so stressful, coupled with the fact he got Shingles in the process, he said.

Money was tight, and his family lost their health insurance in the middle of a pandemic.

Emily Wall was furloughed and then, ultimately, laid off by Disney around the same time.

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She filed for unemployment and felt that financial strain.

“All the process, all the steps and, bi-weekly, going back into claim(s),” Wall said.

Florida’s unemployment rate reached a record high in April, tripling in one month as the economic impacts were realized.

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“We thought it was only going to be a few weeks, and a few weeks have now turned into a long, long period,” Caturano said.

Both Caturano and Wall received their unemployment benefits, but needed more to get by.

Wall started a personal training business, Em Fit, and runs a children’s program twice a week.

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“That’s actually my main gig right now,” she said. “Again, that’s just getting us through.”

Caturano also reinvented himself.

“I got my insurance license (and have) been working on building that business,” he said.

READ: Gov. DeSantis expands COVID-19 vaccine access to include Floridians deemed ‘extremely vulnerable’

On Monday, Caturano was called back to work.

The unemployment rate has slowly improved and things are now starting to look up at our area’s largest employer.

Adam Poulisse, WFTV.com

Adam Poulisse joined WFTV in November 2019.