Over the past five months the COVID-19 pandemic has given us plenty to complain about, but LIFEPlan Care Manager Melissa Imm chose to look at things differently, saying, “I am finding the silver lining in every single day and I’m staying positive.” Melissa only had to look to one of the LIFEPlan members she supports, Tobi Akbas, to find one of those silver linings.
Tobi is a recent Class of 2020 graduate of Lakeland High School in Shrub Oak, New York. Tobi was diagnosed with Williams Syndrome (WS) when he was 2 ½ years old. Williams Syndrome is a genetic condition that presents at birth and is characterized by medical problems, including cardiovascular disease, developmental delays, and learning challenges. These often occur side by side with striking verbal abilities, highly social personalities, and an affinity for music. WS affects 1 in 10,000 people worldwide – an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people in the United States. It occurs equally in both males and females and is found in every culture.
Although Tobi had to deal with some of the medical issues and many learning challenges associated with WS, he has always embraced his diagnosis and never let it stop him from achieving his dreams. Tobi joined his local volunteer fire department when he turned 16 and is an active participant in training and responding to calls. He was named Junior Firefighter of the Year in 2020. Tobi is a black belt in karate, works out at CrossFit and enjoys taking drum lessons and playing the keyboard. Following high school graduation, Tobi started taking classes through the Successful Learning Center, a community program which enables alternate learners to participate in a rewarding college experience.
Tobi coined the word “Tobtastic” a few years back. He often tells people to “Have a Tobtastic Day!” and shares inspirational thoughts on his social media platforms on “Tobtastic Tuesday.” He asked his social media followers what Tobtastic means to them. One of his closest firefighting friends said, “Tobtastic means positivity, strength, perseverance, and the will to never give up no matter what; and to always fight as hard as you can so you can say I did the best I could.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Tobi decided that he wanted to start his own business selling shirts that say “Be Tobtastic.” Tobi and his mom, Terri worked on the logo and decided to give the business a go. In high school, he had vocational training at a local custom shirt and uniform print shop that he reached out to for assistance. They invited Tobi to come in and help with the printing of the shirts. Tobi began advertising on his Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat accounts and in less than 2 weeks had received over 120 t-shirt orders! Tobi hand-delivers each order and has now expanded to masks and will soon add baseball caps. Tobi has pledged to donate a portion of his proceeds to the Williams-Syndrome Association (WSA). The WSA has been a very important organization to Tobi and his family over the years, providing education and social opportunities for individuals and families impacted by WS.
“Tobi has truly inspired me with his positivity, creativity and I couldn’t wait to share this story,” Imm said.
You can see examples of Tobi’s work here. BE TOBTASTIC!