By Jacob Bridges
I’ve always had a desire to give back to my community. I’ve worked on political campaigns and really enjoyed the community engagement part of the job. I grew up around family members who either have a disability or supported people with disabilities in their work. Coupled with the work I’d done with community engagement, I knew I wanted a job that made a difference. I’m currently in the AmeriCorps program working with a nonprofit that supports people with disabilities. The ADA is important legislation that helps to ensure that people with disabilities have the freedom and right to live, learn, work and participate in the community of their choosing.
While working in a bartending job, I got a call from the Program Manager at AmeriCorps; she wanted to bring me in for an interview. AmeriCorps is a federal program established in 1993 by President Bill Clinton. The programs are nationwide and offer placements at various nonprofits working with vulnerable populations. At the end of the program, graduates are given a $6,000 education award, which can be used to pay student loans or continue education. This was perfect for someone like me, and I was determined to be accepted. My first interview with a nonprofit did not go so well. I had a passion for the work they were doing, but not the necessary skills needed to thrive. I was about to give up and forget about the program until I walked into the office of Alliance of Disability Advocates (ADANC). When I walked in, I was immediately greeted by bright and cool colors. This office is painted with a light Carolina blue, warm orange and yellow, and a light green. The shades of the colors were linked to reducing trauma, and I was not the only one who felt overwhelmingly calm upon walking in.
I met the executive director and operations director for my interview. They talked to me about the Independent Philosophy and the movement started by Ed Roberts at the height of the Civil Rights movement. They were proud to refer to recipients of their services as consumers, and the belief everyone has the right to take control of their lives. I was overwhelmed by their passion, and knew I wanted to join this organization. I never thought I would work with a nonprofit like this because I don’t have a disability and wouldn’t know what I had to offer. But then I thought about everyone I was close to. I thought about my cousin who was diagnosed with bipolar and schizophrenia. I thought about my dad with Type 2 diabetes and recently had two strokes. I thought about the early days of my mom teaching Special Education classes when I was young. I was connected to the work ADANC was doing without realizing it.
A week after the interview, I got an email offering me the position at ADANC. I couldn’t believe it and felt like it was too good to be true. After a year of struggling, I started the new year with determination and willingness to learn all I can. My service term ends in September, and I’m still overwhelmed by the success our consumers have in establishing their independence.
Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the ADA