LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Tonia Groff

Position: BLAST Program Teacher
School: Bayside High School
School District: Brevard County School District
City, State: Palm Bay, FL

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Tonia Groff was nominated by Sean Adams, a parent of a student.

Mrs. Groff has been creating a better world for thousands of people with various cognitive deficits who she has had the distinct pleasure of working with over the course of 30 years, with the last eight being in the Brevard Public School System. She started helping others back in elementary school, when her teachers would ask her to be friends with new students coming to the school for the first time. They always told her that if she was friends with them, everyone else would want to be friends with them, too.

From there, Mrs. Groff became a peer counselor in junior high and high school, helping other kids her age in their time of need. She gave them a helping hand, a listening ear, and someone they could count on to just talk to when they needed it. One day, Mrs. Groff had the opportunity to help a young man in her school who came to her making statements that he might not be there tomorrow. When she approached the subject of why he wasn't going to be at school, he stated that he wasn't going to be on Earth. When she brought that information to the guidance counselor and the situation was investigated, the young man was ready to take his own life.

Because of her training as a peer counselor, Mrs. Groff knew enough and cared enough to bring the information to the people who needed to know to get him the help he needed. Mrs. Groff risked her friendship and trust with this young man to help save his life. It took three months for this young man to realize that what she did was the right thing, and that she only did it because she cared. He finally forgave her for breaking his confidence and thanked her for caring. The young man let Mrs. Groff know that he had a plan, and that the plan would have been successful without her intervention. That's when Mrs. Groff decided that she wanted to find a profession that included helping others.

After college, she went on to work in group homes with people with special needs. In one of those homes, there was a young man who had been there for a couple of years and had never earned the opportunity to have a special meal for dinner, which was considered an earned privilege at the time. He couldn't control or didn't feel that he had a reason to control his challenging behaviors enough to earn that meal. Mrs. Groff worked with him day in and day out to try to get him to earn that meal he wanted so badly. In their conversations, this young man told Mrs. Groff that he really loved pumpkin pie, and that he missed having his grandma's pumpkin pie. While her coworkers scoffed and told her she couldn't do it, Mrs. Groff brought in the ingredients to make a pumpkin pie with the young man. She enlisted his help in making the pumpkin pie, put it in the fridge, and told him that when he earned his special meal by making better choices during the day, she would cut that pumpkin pie, and he could have some of it. This young man, who had gone two years without earning his special meal, had his special meal the next day and ate the pumpkin pie for dessert. He was so proud of himself that he told everybody about "Tonia's Pumpkin Pie," and how she helped him have a reason to make better choices. Mrs. Groff helped these young men and women be the best they could be by listening, learning about their world, and taking time to get to know them. This is not just a job for her. It is her "why."

Mrs. Groff went on to be a mental health crisis worker, where she helped numerous people move through their problems and issues. She also helped them learn to make better choices in their lives to make their lives the best that they could be. Mrs. Groff worked with people to make better choices for themselves, their families, and their children. She made a difference in those people's lives by being a listening ear, a person who cared, and a person they could talk to without fear of judgment.

Mrs. Groff also ran a Day Program for people with special needs. She provided them a safe, non-judgmental place that they could come to during the day to learn how to make better choices, make a business out of the things they enjoyed doing, be a good friend, have fun, and most importantly, be the best "them" that they could be. Mrs. Groff worked with people who asked for help learning how to get and keep a job, be the best employee they could be, and have their best life.

Currently, Mrs. Groff is a teacher for Bayside High School’s Brevard Learners Achieving Successful Transition (B.L.A.S.T) program. The program's mission statement is "supporting students as they transition to adult life with high expectations resulting in excellence for all." Mrs. Groff and her team take this statement to heart and strive to have their students become the best possible versions of themselves.

Mrs. Groff has been instrumental in building the Bayside B.L.A.S.T. program from the ground up as the standard bearer for sustained excellence that similar programs strive to attain. One such way that she has demonstrated her leadership is by working with her co-teacher and student team to create a business that all students have a hand in building, sustaining, and growing. This endeavor is making and selling handmade soaps, lotions, bath bombs, etc. These products are sold at local craft fairs on the weekends, and the income's used to help fund various activities that benefit the entire class, as well as making the B.L.A.S.T. program financially self-sufficient.

In addition to establishing a student-driven business, the B.L.A.S.T. program offers community-based instruction (CBI) for special education students who need instruction in functional and life skills. CBI provides natural opportunities for students to practice independent living skills. Mrs. Groff has been instrumental in forging partnerships with a variety of local businesses that give her students an opportunity to acquire job skills that will empower them to join the workforce. Many of those businesses have hired the students based on the time they spent with Mrs. Groff. In this position, Mrs. Groff has helped students see their potential in many ways.

One particular student came to the B.L.A.S.T program not wanting to be there. He stated that he knew everything he needed to know and didn’t need any help. After weeks of Mrs. Groff working with him to see the ways the class could help him, he decided to stay. He successfully finished B.L.A.S.T and was hired by Publix. Today, he has become a mentor for the current B.L.A.S.T students, and he keeps in touch weekly with Mrs. Groff for help and advice in his life.

The indelible mark that Mrs. Groff has made with all the people who she has had a working relationship with over the years is best showcased by the many former students who still routinely seek out her advice and provide her with updates of their current projects. This can be attributed to the positive, nurturing environment that Mrs. Groff has cultivated over the years. Mrs. Groff’s greatest character trait is that she cares, which results in a relationship characterized by mutual trust and respect. Her moral and ethical standards are beyond reproach. Whether known or unknowingly, Mrs. Groff has positively shaped the lives of so many people, with society as a main beneficiary. The world is a better place because of the path that she took in becoming a teacher.

Mrs. Groff has worked with people with special needs and mental health issues for 30 years. She has helped them make better choices and understand there are people out there who are listening and won't judge you for having issues or making poor decisions. Mrs. Groff always says everyone makes mistakes, and it's important to learn from them and move on. She has been making a difference in people's lives for a very long time and has enjoyed every minute of it. She looks back fondly on the times that she has had with the people that she has worked with and helped. Mrs. Groff looks back fondly on those people, who may have been shunned or looked down on by others. She has always been non-judgmental, worked with them, helped them be the best they could be, and made a difference in their lives.

"Mrs. Groff is always looking at people’s unique abilities, not their disabilities that most see. It's obvious to me that this is what Mrs. Groff was meant to do: help others. She helps them to see what they can be and what their abilities are, not their disabilities. She always looks for something that they can be successful at. 'No matter what, there's something that everybody can be successful at,' is her motto. You just need to find what they're good at and make that their success. Don't look at the bad, look at the good. Don't look at the challenges that they have, look at the successes that they have," said Adams.

Comments (42)

Selma Johnson Posted over a year ago

I have known Tonia for the last 8 years. She definitely has the gift of bringing out the very best in each student. This helps to instill confidence in themselves. Her students are always respectful and well mannered when I visit her classroom. Tonia is definitely an asset to the BLAST program. I highly recommend her for this award.

Justine Walmsley Posted over a year ago

Tonia has a huge heart and truly cares about everyone in her life. You can always count on Tonia to be there when you need anything.

Julia Adams Posted over a year ago

I met Mrs. Groff when my son enrolled in the BLAST program starting the 2021/2022 school year. I was immediately impressed with what I saw and am amazed at the positive growth influence she has had over my son. He looks forward to getting ready and attending BLAST daily and sometimes quotes Mrs. Groff when I am trying to do something for him rather than allowing him to grow. He helps out so much more at home and has become more and more independent. That is such a joy to my heart. It is obvious that Mrs. Groff enjoys what she does and takes pleasure in ensuring her students succeed.

David O'Brien Posted over a year ago

Tonia has done an amazing job as one of the instructors of the BLAST program, a program designed to assist students in the transition from school to post-school opportunities. She shows a dedication and compassion for her students that goes above and beyond. She provides a loving and supportive learning environment where students are held accountable for doing their very best in a variety of skill areas including vocational, employment, social, academic, leisure, daily living, independent functioning, community exploration, and more. She truly wants every student to succeed, and it shows in her daily interactions with her students.

Jen Cyr Posted over a year ago

I had the pleasure of working with Tonia years back and I always looked up to her and went to her for advice. Tonia is a caring, compassionate and motivated person. Those students are blessed to have her.

Tom Posted over a year ago

Tonia is one of the kindest people I know. She is an inspiration to everyone she meets! Always honest, helpful, and uplifting. Just an all around great person.

Jen Cyr Posted over a year ago

I had the pleasure of working with Tonia years back as a residential counselor and she was always my go to for advice. She is educated, empathetic, persistent and motivated. She is a person I have always looked up to and she deserves all the recognition in the world for her efforts.

Athena Pietrzak Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Groff is an amazing inspiration. She organized a BLAST fundraiser with my Junior class that brought joy to all in the school. After all my room smelled fantastic :) The students were super impressed with BLAST and how easy it was to work with Mrs. Groff. In the past Mrs. Groff came to my classroom and brought her students to teach my class how to make some of the many products BLAST creates. I truly hope she is awarded Teacher Life Changer of the Year :) Good Luck my friend.

Lynnette Thorstensen Posted over a year ago

I worked with Tonia for several years and observed her impact on the lives of the students she serves. Her students admire and respect her, it is wonderful to have someone as caring and committed working with our students. She is a shining example of what a teacher should be, kind, patient, and creative. There is no doubt she has been a true life changer for many of our students and parents.

Mara Goulet Posted over a year ago

Tonia has a heart of gold. Her love, dedication and compassion for her students is displayed in so so many ways. Tonia goes above and beyond at all levels. She reaches out to her family, friends and relatives for support to be sure her students have a very happy and successful learning experience. Recently she made sure EACH and EVERY student in her class went home with a small gift for Christmas. THAT is dedication and just PLAIN OLD KINDNESS! Tonia has my vote. She's definitely a winner.

Tammy Karr Posted over a year ago

Tonia is an amazing teacher! She is extremely dedicated and makes such a difference in the lives of so many each and every day!

Diane Dickson Posted over a year ago

It is my pleasure to endorse Tonia Groff for the Life Changer Award. I have known and worked with Mrs. Groff for the past 7 years and have always been impressed with the impact her style of instruction has on her students, I mean to say "team members", in the BLAST classroom! When you visit, you will be greeted by confident, well-trained young people. They will welcome you with a handshake and introduce themselves. You will notice that the room is well organized and everyone is respectful and on task. Mrs. Groff exhibits plenty of patience while at the same time holding these young people to high standards. She models professionalism, to students and colleagues alike. If we had more instructors like Tonia Groff the world would be a much better place! Congratulations on the nomination, Tonia. You deserve to be recognized and celebrated!

Daniel Miller Posted over a year ago

I was one of Tonia's coworkers in BLAST. There is no one more deserving. She not only teachers her students and cares for them, but she also taught me how to be a better teacher and how to better service the needs of students with special needs.

Karen White Posted over a year ago

Tonia does an amazing job with her students. She holds them to high expectations with compassion and understanding. She does an great job teaching her students how to navigate through life situations. We are very lucky to have her working with our students here at Bayside High School.

George Derr Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Groff is not only one of my colleagues at Bayside High School, she has also been the facilitator of B.L.A.S.T. for both of my children. My son, Harrison, and daughter, Natalie, have been students in this post graduate program for special needs students. Mrs. Groff has supported their emotional, academic, and social growth during the time they spent in B.L.A.S.T. She guided them through job training, social skills development, and domestic/personal hygiene development in a manner that exuded high expectations and at the same time support and encouragement. She has the ability to determine students' strengths and needs and guide them to enhance or develop them. I seriously doubt either of my children would have developed the proactive social skills and initiative needed to become independent, or as close to independent as possible, individuals without the guidance, caring, and encouragement from Mrs. Groff. I am not surprised by this nomination. Mrs. Groff treats her students as capable, responsible young men and women. And they rise to the occasion. She certainly is deserving of this honor. Most respectfully, George R. Derr III

Holli Zander Posted over a year ago

Tonia is an exceptional teacher and person. She works hard every day to ensure her students are getting the life skills they need to be the best people they can be. She is always encouraging to her students and is able to provide opportunities for her students to perform above expectations. She is a team player and is supportive of her colleagues. Tonia has a positive attitude in times that could very easily get most people down. She is a pleasure to work with and is a definite, positive attribute to our Bayside High School faculty.

Tracy Keller Posted over a year ago

I met Tonia when she was hired here at Bayside HS. She is not afraid to stand up for what she believes in for her BLAST students. She has contacted local businesses asking if they have opportunities for her students to learn real life employment skills and customer service. She has been able to create a weekly schedule for her students to work at these business, and the students are excited each week to partake in, and take pride in, these activities. She is firm in her classroom yet compassionate and caring to her student’s needs. With her supervision, her BLAST students started their own soap and lotion business helping bring in funds for more classroom activities and opportunities. From the process of making the products from scratch, packaging, labeling, and inventory the students are proud to tell their customers their roles and responsibilities. You can see the pride in their smiles and eyes. She has a grand vision and I am excited to see how far she can take this program. She is making an enormous significance in not only in the local area but in the hearts and minds of her students.

Vanessa Skipper Posted over a year ago

Tonia is an amazing educator and student champion. Tonia is tireless in her dedication to our students with disabilities who are post-graduation. She gives them great experiences both within and beyond the four walls of the classroom. Her students get hands on experiences that translate into life long skills. She is kind, she is patient, and most importantly, she truly cares about the students who walk through her classroom door. Besides all of the job and life skills she teaches, one of the cool things that her students have learned to do in her classroom is how to make soaps and lotions. They are amazing!

Rene Walsh Posted over a year ago

Tonia is an amazing teacher! She goes above and beyond for her students and others. She cares a great deal about helping as many people as she can. She is the perfect person for Life Changer of the Year! Her students all love her and she makes a difference in helping so many. Just reading her Nominee and comments from people that she has touched in their lives, whether it’s personal, work related, teacher or passerby, shows what an amazing person she is an such an awesome person that makes a huge difference. ??

Christine Barbuto Posted over a year ago

The first time I met Tonia Groff was when she sat before me in a job interview. Our high school was starting a brand new post-graduation program for students with disabilities and we needed to hire a strong team to develop the program from the ground up. Our team knew right away that Tonia was the anchor we needed. She and the other two teachers we hired worked collaboratively to design and successfully implement an outstanding, dynamic, personalized program that still thrives today. What Tonia brings to the team is high expectations, clear vision for each student, a sense of humor, and the energy to do the right thing all the time. I love spending time with her in and out of the classroom!!

Sandy Edwards Posted over a year ago

There is no doubt that Tonia is dedicated to her students…no doubt she is dedicated and passionate about her life’s work. I work at the same school as Tonia and I see her passion. She works nonstop every day…literally, without any planning time. She always has a smile on her face, too. She is an integral part of the lives of her students. Tonia is also a wonderful support for her co-workers. She has a wealth of knowledge in her field and she is able to share her expertise when other teachers have questions for her. Tonia Groff is most definitely a Life Changer!

Bonnie Posted over a year ago

Congratulations Tonia! Tonia is a caring compassionate person. She always puts everyone else's needs before her own and is happy to do it. She works above and beyond for her students to make sure everyone of them exceeds their highest goals. She is very proud of all their accomplishments. Tonia deserves the Life Changer Award. She has changed numerous lives over her years.

Tamika Green Posted over a year ago

I met Tonia while doing my externship for speech-language pathology. She immediately welcomed me and made me feel like part of the classroom family. She is such an amazing person! She really cares about her students! She gives them tough love and challenges them to go beyond their comfort zones so they can see how capable they are. She puts so much effort into what she does, and you can tell her students love her. She is dedicated to her students and passionate about helping them achieve their goals. I saw so much progress in them in just the four months I had the pleasure of working with her. She is truly a gem!

Josh Posted over a year ago

Tonia has always been such a caring and loving person who can be tough when needed. She has worked so hard for so long to help so many people see that they can schedule their goals, if anyone deserves to be recognized it is her. The 1000s of people she has helped over her years are loving proof of her being a Life changer.

Charlotte Bulat Posted over a year ago

I have known Ms. Goff for many years. I know her to have a big heart and caring nature. She has always had open arms for those who needed help or assistance. Thirty years...time to recognize this commitment to vocation.

Noelle Posted over a year ago

Tonia has dedicated her entire life to changing lives and making a better place for those who live in this world. She believes that each and every one of us have our own abilities, she does not see them as a disability. As a teacher at the BLAST program she does not only teach her students how to become the best person they can become but she also mentors them. Tonia has been changing lives since she was just a kid, and she will continue to change lives for the rest of her life.

Patty Lamond Posted over a year ago

Tonia I didn’t know all that about you. What an amazing life. I’m very glad that I got to hear all of your accomplishments. I’m proud to be your colleague.

Noelle Groff Posted over a year ago

Tonia is wonderful and caring for her students! She is passionate about creating an environment for her students to thrive in!!!!

Naomie Posted over a year ago

Years ago I had the pleasure of working with Tonia in a social services setting. During that time I learned who she is from the inside out. First of all she is beyond dedicated to the people she supports. She does not give up…..ever. Her level of empathy, patience and imagination have no bounds. She is genuinely fun by nature and has a level of energy that just never seems to waiver. I always felt that this trait made her a very effective communicator with the people she supported as it helped them relax and be more receptive to her in general. She goes the extra mile (or ten) when needed and without complaint. She fights for services she feels will be of benefit to those she supports even when others might not have the same vision. She never hesitated to do anything that she expected her staff to do. She worked in the trenches as well as behind a desk and did it all with positivity and grace. Quite frankly I still miss problem solving and teaming up with her to get things done mostly because I knew we would succeed and that someone’s life would be made a little better for it. I have no doubt that she is loving her work now. She is a giver and is doing something that reflects what she holds in her heart. This is Tonia. She deserves this recognition and I will always support and appreciate her for all she has done and all that she continues to do. Life changer?? Yes….100 percent.

Mara Goulet Posted over a year ago

Well deserved..such dedication and compassion. Tonia is the most deserving teacher I know.

Laurie Becker Posted over a year ago

I am Tonia’s Aunt Laurie. I watched Tonia grow as a child when we both lived in Maine. As the oldest sibling, Tonia did take on the role of guardian of her younger sister Heather and younger brother Tommy. Tonia was always a kind and compassionate young woman. She was and is strong when she needs to be and warm and loving when another person needs comforting. She is smart and organized. She is a sweet and loving Mom. She really does embody everything her nomination letter says she does. She sees her projects through and works tirelessly for the betterment of those students she serves. Tonia has touched so many lives - those of her students’ families and most importantly the students she has given life and hope to. Tonia is most deserving of this Lifechanger of the Year award!

Lori Posted over a year ago

A hero!

Raymond Laliberte Posted over a year ago


KATHI Posted over a year ago


Staci Dyce Posted over a year ago

Tonia is an amazing teacher for students with special needs. She works hard to give the students in the BLAST program different learning opportunities and experiences to help grow their independent skills at home and in the workplace. Her passion for the students shines through in her personality and actions.

Fay Pasay Posted over a year ago

Tonia has always been supportive of her clients and her staff. Tonia and I worked together for several years and we have maintained our friendship till this day. Now, that is many, many years. Tonia is a gifted individual. She is a Lifechanger for everyone she meets.

Melissa Gould Posted over a year ago

Congratulations Tonia! This is a much deserved recognition; you've dedicated your life to helping others and it's time to recognize you for it! Congrats again and keep being you.

Auntie Nay Posted over a year ago

Ms. Groff has been a dedicated professional in the education field specific to students with special needs. She goes above and beyond for each student understanding they are individuals with unique strengths and needs. Ms. Groff can be counted on to pitch in as a team member and assist in any way needed. She has been a change agent and force for good throughout her 30 year career. A more professional, dedicated, caring “Changer” you will not find. She is simply the best.

Ovidio oses Posted over a year ago

I’ve been working with Tonia this passed year with Walmart and the blast program in the school and could see how pationate she is about making a positive impact in these kids life. The Walmart on malabar road is excited to been with such a different maker. Thank you

Tom H Posted over a year ago

Tonia is always up beat she sees the best in everything and everyone! She has changed so many lives in her life it’s crazy to think about! Well deserving of this nomination!!!!

Laura Ziman Posted over a year ago

Mrs.Groff has been a true lifeline for my family. We currently have 2 children in the BLAST program at Bayside.Mrs.Groff goes above and beyond daily with her class. She is caring, generous but at the same time she guides with firm intent to push the kids to be their best..She has ALWAYS had a shoulder for me to cry on and offers me advice in times of despair; which having two special needs children seems to be quite often.My eldest will be leaving BLAST in December 2022 and my youngest will leave in April 2024. We hope to continue our relationship with this angel when the kids are no longer at Bayside. If there was ever a perfect nominee for this award,it is Mrs.Groff!!!

Melanie Boswell Posted over a year ago

I've worked in education, specifically exceptional student education, for almost 30 years. Tonia's care, belief in her students, support for her class, and willingness to go above and beyond stands out as one of the best in education. She is an amazing human above all, and truly deserves this award.