Furloughed Disney employees find success in side gigs

After being furloughed from Disney, many cast members are rekindling old interests and exploring new talents to bring in extra cash.

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  • | 12:23 p.m. September 16, 2020
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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Although Disney has reopened with limited capacity, many of its longtime cast members still are watching from afar.

Since April, many employees — who call the “Happiest Place on Earth” their home away from home — have remained furloughed. And while they hold out hope for the phone call that will bring them back to Disney, some are finding new ways to bring in a money through a variety of side hustles.

This effort has found a home on a Facebook page called “Ear for Each Other,” which is dedicated to helping furloughed workers get ideas of how to turn their talents into a marketable commodity.

Photo by Troy Herring
Photo by Troy Herring


In 1979, Jaimie Roberts — then a high-school student with a love for chorus — witnessed something that would change her life forever: a performance by the Voices of Liberty.

What followed that was a passion that led the current Winter Garden resident to Disney in 1987. She has performed in numerous roles — from the Voices of Liberty to Esméralda in the Hunchback of Notre Dame to the original Rose Petal at the My Perfectly Princess Tea Party at the Grand Floridian. She also has been a clinician with Disney Performing Arts.

But since she was furloughed, Roberts has found a new path through an old love — baking cakes.

The simple act of baking gave her something to do, and although there is trial and error with it, Roberts enjoys the process of learning. And ever the performer, with each cake delivered, Roberts serenades her recipient with a singing of “Happy Birthday.”

“I started realizing, ‘Hey, this is helping me not be depressed — I have to get up, and I have to do something today, and this person is counting on me to bring a little joy to their life with this cake,’” Roberts said. “It’s just turned into this little tiny thing that makes me happy, and it makes them happy.”

Photo by Troy Herring
Photo by Troy Herring


She’s served in numerous roles at Disney since 2005, but Jessica Yazzolino-Konecny really found her niche in event business — doing event work with the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, as well as event work around production in the parks. She also was brought on as a media and productions specialist for Toy Story Land and Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge.

But when Disney shut down and she was furloughed, all events stopped. Yazzolino-Konecny found herself dealing with going from 10- to 12-hour work days to nothing. That was when she discovered how much of herself was tied to her work.

Luckily for Yazzolino-Konecny, a friend who also worked in the hospitality industry told her about World Financial Group and her time learning financing. Yazzolino-Konecny dived straight into it and, after a minimal investment on her part — including getting her health- and life-insurance license through the state — started working for the company.

“It’s not only how can I help other people, which is what I like to do in general, (but also) this kind of fed this itch that I was missing from work,” she said. “I was also able to apply the information that I learned to our own finances — my husband and I now have a clearer path on what we want to do both now, 10 years in the future and when we retire.”

Courtesy of Melissa Vargas-Ramirez
Courtesy of Melissa Vargas-Ramirez


Just two weeks after graduating high school, Melissa Vargas-Ramirez took a hostess job at Hollywood Studios. From there, her love for Disney gradually led her to a few different roles before she graduated college in 2018.

After college, she joined the Disney Institute and became a client services coordinator overseeing the Latin market. But since being furloughed, Vargas-Ramirez — who also is working on her master’s degree at the University of Central Florida — is doing something a bit different.

She dabbled in arts and crafts to start but then bought a cookbook by celebrity Chrissy Teigen. It was an awesome book, Vargas-Ramirez said, but it lacked desserts. That’s when she decided she was going to start making macarons, which led to the creation of Sweet Creations by Melissa.

“I started posting my attempts on my personal Snapchat just for fun, and I thought, ‘OK, something to keep me busy and something new to learn,’” she said. “I never really thought, ‘OK, I need to do this and this is the next step that I’m going to and then I’m going to start a business. It’s going well — I’m getting a consistent flow of orders.”

Photo by Troy Herring
Photo by Troy Herring


For 15 years, Sarah Matthews has been involved with some form of creative media at Disney.

Since 2009, the Winter Garden resident has been with the famous Imagineering department and most recently served as a senior graphic designer before being among those furloughed by the company in April. To add to the difficult year, Matthews’ husband also was furloughed from his job at Disney.

Although she could have gone into doing graphic design on her own, Matthews decided she would return to that whenever she went back to her old job — meaning she had to figure out what she wanted to do. 

That’s when, a month or two ago, a friend asked her about doing virtual art classes. Matthews reached out to her friend, who owns Kids Create Art.

“I became sort of the homeschool curriculum person for her and have been doing that and just brainstorming — like, ‘How can we do stuff so Girl Scouts can get their badges for creativity?’ and ‘How can we do little virtual birthday party groups?,’” Matthews said. “I just taught my first class this week, and it was amazing. … I feel excited again.”

Photo by Troy Herring
Photo by Troy Herring


On the second floor of her Winter Garden home, Amber Clark has all the fabrics and tools she needs to make face masks.

Since 2002, Clark has worked at the Disney Vacation Club. She started her most recent position at the beginning of the year — right before COVID-19. She has been furloughed longer than she had been at her new position, she said.

After being furloughed, Clark put in work painting around the house — she even painted a huge mural in her child’s play room. Then, in early July, Clark — a self-described craft-supply hoarder — began making masks for herself and her family. It took root, and since then, she has crafted masks with a variety of designs — including pumpkins and spooky things for the upcoming Halloween season.

“The first one took forever, the second one took half a day, and then by the third and fourth one, I figured out: ‘OK, this is kind of easy — I can make a whole bunch of these,’” Clark said. “I had always played around on Etsy and I figured, ‘You know what, why not?’ I’m not saying it has exploded, but I sold about 500, so it’s doing all right.”


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