1. Tell me how you first got involved in with the organization or cause and why you’re interested in working there
When I was in high school in Chicago, I volunteered at an organization that provided a continuum of care and network of services for people with developmental disabilities. When I started, I did not know anyone with a physical or developmental disability, so I was not sure what to expect. As I arrived what I saw was exactly what everyone hopes for: excitement, laughter, belonging, and true happiness. Almost immediately I met a young woman with Downs Syndrome. She was young, passionate, energetic and ready to embrace life. I thought, “what’s so different about her”? She had values, goals, and interests, just like the rest of us. At 17 years old, I remember leaving thinking that inclusion is the only option. I left that day a different person and one that was committed to making sure our communities would see people for their strengths, contributions, and the true person that they are.
2. Tell me about what you do in your role as ED
As the Executive Director of Ability Now Bay Area, I am responsible for the overall operations and vision of the organization. As a nonprofit that serves adults with disabilities, I strive each day to ensure that our staff and team deliver excellent services to the individuals that we serve and their families, that we empower individuals to reach their fullest potential, and that we educate our communities to focus on the abilities in people, not the disabilities.
3. How does the mission tie to your passion?
The mission of Ability Now Bay Area is to educate and empower adults with disabilities and their families in the San Francisco Bay Area through advocacy, building independence and wellness. This mission ties to my passion because empowering, advocating, and educating individuals and communities has been a long-term goal for me professionally and personally from supporting children to grow and reach their potential to empowering adults to reach independence and affect change for themselves and others.
4. What is your vision for the organization?
My vision for Ability Now Bay Area is continued growth and expansion to serve additional individuals in other service areas, excellence in programming, a model of empowerment and beacon of advocacy, a positive staff morale and team environment, a resource center for individuals and families, and a sustainable organization serving the Bay Area for another 77+ years.
5. Why are you in nonprofit work? What emotional reasons?
I am in nonprofit work because helping others has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I began at a young age volunteering with people with disabilities, working with at-risk youth, educating children with autism, empowering adults with disabilities, and donating time and resources to a variety of causes. Advocating for those who need some support and working to ensure that society sees the abilities in people, not only a challenge that is only one piece of who they are, will be my passion for eternity. I cannot imagine working in a profession in which my every day duties did not result in a benefit to others, it would be counter-intuitive to who I am as an individual.
6. What makes your organization different from other similar ones?
Ability Now Bay Area is different from other organizations similar to ours because we focus each day on empowering individuals and individuals’ choices and rights. We educate, advocate, and continually strive to make the center and our community a better place.
What do you find most challenging about working for the organization or cause?
The biggest challenge about working for an organization that serves adults with disabilities is the lack of state funding for programs and services. With an organization that has 77 years of history, we have historically low day rates of reimbursement for our services which makes it a challenge to continue to operate. Identifying alternative revenue sources and donors is critical for sustainability.
7. What’s the best/worst thing to happen since you started working with the organization?
The best thing that has happened since I started working here is that we have embarked upon a new sustainable fundraising model that focuses on relationship development and cultivation. Through the model we offer “Discovering Abilities” Tours twice per month to introduce our participants, programs and services to our community and interested individuals.
8. What has been your greatest accomplishment at the organization?
I would say that my greatest accomplishment over the past 18 months of being here has been successfully engaging a remarkable team of board members, staff, and a volunteer to move the organization forward with the Benevon Sustainable Fundraising Model. The collective energy, passion, and commitment to Ability Now Bay Area from this team has been incredible!
9. What do you wish other people knew about the organization?
I wish that other people knew that Ability Now Bay Area is here in Oakland empowering adults with disabilities for the past 77 years. I wish more people knew that there are many ways they can get involved and work with us to educate, advocate, and empower individuals and their families.
10. Tell me about some of the people you’ve met while working at the organization
I have met a remarkable number of individuals while working here. The list is so extensive that I cannot mention everyone, but daily I am honored to be surrounded by some truly extraordinary participants, staff, and community members whose drive, passion, and perseverance are beyond admirable.
11. What would you tell someone who is thinking about (donating, volunteering, etc.)?
Please come and see Ability Now Bay Area for yourself. I could tell you how amazing of a place it is, but in one hour or less you will feel and experience it and know why your donation or time, money, or resources is so needed and so genuinely appreciated.
12. What do you think will change about the organization or cause over the next five years?
We will be in constant growth over the next five years. With Home and Community Based Standards directing changes to programming over the next 3 years and a focus on sustainable fundraising, Ability Now is moving full speed ahead towards program excellence, community integration, expansion of services, and sustainability.
13. Who is a hero of yours and how do they inspire you?
My hero was my maternal grandmother. She was the epitome of unconditional love and a warrior through her nearly twenty year battle with cancer. My inspiration comes from her because in the face of adversity, she continued to help others and exemplified unconditional love. It reminds me daily of how to face challenges, why it’s always important to help others, and to be kind.
14. What else can you tell me about the organization?
Ability Now Bay Area empowers and supports adults ages 18 and over who are clients of the Regional Center and have interest in exploring our adult education classes, small business development center, and/or wellness programs.
Ability Now Bay Area offers a rich variety of adult learning programs that focus on increased self-confidence and autonomy. From life skills to advanced mathematics to adaptive yoga, every participant is engaged in classes and activities to help them reach their full potential. Participants engage in a broad range of learning opportunities that are designed to expand academic ability, enhance communication skills, develop vocational aptitude, increase involvement in the community and improve health and wellness.
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The Plant Exchange Staff
The Plant Exchange Staff