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Amanda Baar knows a thing or two about challenges. In fact, the close-knit Baar family has had more than its share of health setbacks to overcome. But Amanda has an amazing sense of perspective, one that’s kept in balance by the people she works with every day. Her journey—and theirs—is a story worth hearing.

Competitive and compassionate

Amanda was at the top of her game as a soccer player at Lakewood Ranch High School. Although she fractured vertebrae in 2009 and had to sit out her freshman year, Amanda wore a back brace and did six months of rehab so she could return to the field as a sophomore. She went on to complete a stellar athletic career, graduate with a 4.0 GPA, and earn acceptance to the University of Florida.

Amanda began her studies in education at UF, but health concerns forced her to drop out and return home. Soon after, her younger brother Matt got sick.

Matt was diagnosed with a Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumor in his abdomen—a cancer so rare, fewer than 200 cases have been reported. Doctors told the Baar family that Matt had a 15% chance of survival. He was only 15 at the time.

Matt received aggressive chemotherapy and surrounded himself with family, who were all too familiar with the fight that comes with a cancer diagnosis. You see, Amanda’s youngest brother, Joey, had battled childhood leukemia. At the time, Joey attended Gene Witt Elementary School, where teachers would gather daily around the flagpole to pray for his remission. His treatment lasted more than three years.

Remarkably, both Joey and Matt came back from their cancers. Today, Joey, who is 22, is 12 years into remission. Matt, 25, is seven years cancer free.

Family First

During Matt’s illness, Amanda refocused her energy on family and took a new track toward becoming a dental hygienist. As she neared completion of that program, she began experiencing her own unusual symptoms.

What began as an unsuspecting trip to the doctor landed Amanda in the hands of neurologists, who diagnosed her with thalamic glioma. A brain tumor.

In September 2020, during the height of the COVID pandemic, Amanda underwent surgery at Duke University. She spent the hours before and after alone, waiting to see her parents during visiting hours. When Amanda first saw her dad, she had no recollection of who he was.

Over five weeks of intensive rehabilitation, Amanda re-learned her cognitive skills, including speech, reading, and many daily functions. If there was any silver lining, it was that Amanda’s tumor was benign.

Still, a tough few years followed. Amanda’s plans to become a dental hygienist went on pause. She endured pain and deficits throughout the right side of her body due to the surgery. Like many of us, she spent most of her time at home, waiting for the world to return to normal as she processed what her future might look like.

It was during Amanda’s first interview with Beaver Shriver, founder of Rise Up Café (formerly Rise & Nye’s), that he hired her on the spot. Her new job: coffee shop manager. But this wasn’t just any coffee shop.

Jobs with Dignity

Located in the heart of downtown Sarasota, Rise Up Café is a popular coffee and ice-cream spot that trains and employs individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It’s a small cafe with a big mission: inclusion, acceptance, and opportunity.

Amanda had coached Special Olympics for many years, and growing up around Joey, who has Down Syndrome, she learned early on about intellectual and developmental disabilities. She understands the value that people with disabilities bring to the community; she knows how their deficits, in many ways, aren’t too different from anyone else’s.

No matter what small battle Amanda might be fighting on a given day—which still includes retraining her right-sided abilities—her employees give her daily perspective. They hug her, unprompted. They text her constantly, likely because she is a constant in their lives. Amanda’s post at the coffee shop has taught her boundless compassion.

As if she’s not making enough of an impact at Rise Up, Amanda is also a part-time coach at Adventure for All. This nonprofit inspires individuals with “exceptionalities” through life-changing adventures and educational opportunities. (Joey, for example, kayaks, hikes, and bikes with the group.) It also confronts society’s biases and low expectations in the process.

And she just added another part-time coaching gig, at NXT Generation Wellness, to her schedule. There she works with individuals with exceptional needs and learning disabilities on her day off from the café.

While managing a coffee shop and teaching individuals like Joey how to ride a bike might not have been in Amanda’s vision for her future, it has unquestionably become a big part of her purpose. Just ask Joey, who is quick to tell his sister that he loves her.

Thank you, Amanda, for making our community and world more beautiful, inclusive, and compassionate!

Why We Care

Barancik Foundation believes that promoting social wellness and financial empowerment is vital to maintaining the health and strength of our community and can help everyone achieve more.

About Barancik Foundation

The Charles and Margery Barancik family has long believed in the power of philanthropy to shape our world and enrich the lives of all people. It was the expression of this belief that led them in 2014 to establish Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation—a private, family foundation located in Sarasota, Florida.

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The Barancik Foundation does not accept unsolicited requests for funding.

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