Monday, September 5, 2011

I'm back...Now let's get to work!




All of these words have been used to describe my recent journey to Costa Rica. Although it was by far the greatest discussion I've created in my adult life thus far, those words feel a little too strong for me. To put it more simply, I would label my Costa Rican adventure as a learning experience. It helped me to learn the power that one person can have if truly determined. I learned that people who make a small contribution could have a big impact on the world. I now know that it's not our job to search for our purpose in life, but to be patient, diligent, and humble enough to let it present itself to us. Never in my life did I think this two-month journey would pave a path for knowledge, self-discovery, and personal growth, but it did.

Due to this experience, I also learned to be mindful of your words. In a blog post prior to arriving in Costa Rica, I wrote about my expectations for the journey. I wanted to evoke a new thought process concerning those with disabilities, and because of my posts that was accomplished. International organizations, universities, and political leaders have now taken note of the issues concerning travelers with disabilities. However, I didn't expect any of that to happen so quickly, nor did I anticipate the responsibility that comes with such a huge expectation.

That responsibility is now something I feel charged with and have decided that it's time to work toward making a positive change in disadvantaged areas as I had originally promised.

An international network, Partners of the Americas, works to connect individuals, volunteers, institutions, businesses, and communities in order to change lives through lasting partnerships. Joining with the International Association for Volunteer Efforts and many other volunteer-centered organizations, Partners of the Americas host a World Youth Summit on volunteering. The summit brings together youth from around the world to learn best practices and to share collaborative ideas in the areas of social justice, economic development, entrepreneurship, and much more. One the categories most interesting to me focused on the social inclusion of people with disabilities. I was not only surprised to see disability as a topic of interest, but highly encouraged by it. Wanting to be more involved, I applied to be a presenter. If chosen, I will speak about international volunteerism and disability. I should hear back any day now, so keep your fingers crossed.

Along with that effort, I founded an organization, Against the Odds (ATO), when I was in high school. ATO focuses on accessible play equipment in playgrounds throughout my hometown. My classmates in an English class inspired me to form this organization. One day, our teacher asked us which park in town was our childhood favorite. Aware of my disability and the limitations it caused growing up, I bluntly said, "None. I could never get to any of the equipment." It was through the glares of apathy of my classmates that I realized I had missed out on something spectacular. "You've NEVER gone down a slide or played on monkey bars?" was the question they asked me.


That day, I went to my mentor, started a local campaign, and scheduled meetings with city officials. Within one year, ATO raised $3000 through a single mailing push. Senator Dole and Vice Presidential hopeful, John Kerry, were both major financial supporters. Having a glimpse of what a few well-written words accompanied by a 42-cent stamp could do, I imagined what could be accomplished on a larger scale.

One day, I read an article that talked about children with disabilities in Africa. I can remember the horror that overtook me when reading that children with disabilities in some parts of the country are thrown to animals or left for dead if thought to have a disability. The lack of education and resources have left many to believe that those with disabilities are not capable of being a contribution to society, and therefore, must be left for dead. Thus, New Horizons Academy for the Exceptional (NHA) came into existence. Teaching grades K-5, NHA will utilize the most dedicated teachers to not only teach academics, but to instill pride, determination, and perseverance in these future world leaders. These children will learn to celebrate their differences and share that knowledge with others who they encounter. I plan to visit Africa in the summer of 2012 to begin the groundwork for the academy. As I meet with designers, attorneys, and educators in the next few months, I'll make sure you're kept in the loop. I am beyond excited about the changes that I hope to bring to those with disabilities around the world!

In next week’s blog, I'll take you back to Costa Rica and tell you all the other details of my trip.

Let's just say, this boy can dance...

Until then,


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