HERO of the Month: Kate Crawford

Welcome to a our new blog feature: Hero of the Month!

At PYD, we’re surrounded by so many outstanding individuals who go above and beyond for our mission that it only makes sense to share their inspiring work.

Meet our inaugural honoree: Kate Crawford, one of our amazing volunteers!

Kate has been a mentor in our Mentor Match program for more than two years and, within that time, she has developed an amazing relationship with her mentee, Becky. Additionally, Kate is always willing to help Mentor Match staff in any way needed. From letting us feature her in PYD videos, to participating in PYD events such as Field Day and Mentor Appreciation Night, she is the volunteer of every nonprofit’s dreams!

Kate and Becky

Why did you become involved with PYD?

I attended Providence College for my undergrad and had the opportunity to participate in peer mentoring and tutoring. I loved working with the kids! I worked at EMC Corporation as my first job out of college in an inside sales role. Through EMC, I was introduced to Big Brothers Big Sisters and became a mentor, or to use the lingo of Big Brothers, Big Sisters, I became a “big.” When I moved to Boston, I researched some mentoring organizations and came across PYD. I knew I had a passion for helping kids and I felt there was a missing hole that I needed to fill. I applied to be a mentor through PYD and was matched with Becky Haile.

How long have you been matched with your mentee?

We have been matched for over two years now and I couldn’t be happier. Not only am I an important mentor in her life, she is an important role model to me as well. We have learned so much from each other and I look forward to continuing to spend time with her.

Kate and Becky at Field Day

How has your relationship with your mentee impacted your life?

Words can’t even describe how she has impacted my life. I have had the opportunity to see her grow, change and mature over the past two years. She is such an independent young woman! I had the chance to visit her school at the Cardinal Cushing Center and shadow her for a day, meet her fellow classmates, peers and teacher. Becky gives off so much warmth, happiness and love for her life. She can always make me smile and laugh. Every time we hang out she will call me before and ask me what I am wearing so she can wear the same. She has helped me to not stress the small things and worries in life and really appreciate every moment in a day. Mentoring is a huge part of my life that will always be important to me. I want to stay matched with Becky and watch us both grow as individuals.

What are your hobbies and interests?

I have my own Disc Jockey business that I began in High School and my DJ name is Cutmaster Kate. Although I haven’t had the time to do gigs now, I would love to get back into it. I love music, traveling, kayaking, hiking, shopping, running, and have a passion for cooking. Becky and I also love to go bowling together and go for long walks by the Charles River.

What is something that most people don’t know about you that you would like to share?

Although I come across as very outgoing, I am shy at heart. I used to worry a lot about what people thought of me, but now I am confident and happy in myself and really hope I convey my passion for caring for others and making a difference. I think a lot about a quote of Mother Teresa’s: “In this life, we cannot always do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” This quote means a lot to me and I hope that everyone can take a break from their busy schedules to volunteer, mentor and make a difference through a small act of kindness.

What are some of your hopes/goals for the future?

Becky has inspired me to make a career change from Marketing-Inside Sales to Education. I am now a graduate student at Lesley pursuing my M.Ed. in Moderate Disabilities (prek-8) and Severe (all levels). I am working at the John F Kennedy Elementary School in the SKIP program working with students with moderate and severe disabilities. I have found my passion and calling. I have felt so many powerful emotions. I am inspired by the student’s independence, their love for the simple things in life, and their never-ending amounts of joy and laughter. I am proud to have the chance to be working with them and look forward to continuing my career in special education.

Runners with Disabilities in the 2014 Boston Marathon

Partners for Youth with Disabilities is proud to call Boston home. Most of our volunteers, participants, staff members, and partner organizations have deep rooted connections to Boston. The 2014 Boston Marathon is tomorrow and many individuals with disabilities will be racing, including the largest number of blind and visually impaired athletes ever. Keep an eye out for these inspiring athletes while you are cheering on the runners on Monday!

Oz Mondejar

Oz is running with Team Spaulding to raise money for the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, which opened last year and treated 32 marathon bombing victims. He is a former PYD mentor and a former teacher of the Young Entrepreneurs Project, for which he won Teacher of the Year from the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship. In the words of PYD Executive Director Regina Snowden: “Running Boston personifies Oz, as he is always on the run all over the city of Boston and the nation for countless humanitarian efforts and for being a VOICE of extraordinary brilliance, talent and integrity.”

Dick and Rick Hoyt

Team Hoyt

This father and son team has competed in almost 1,100 races including every Boston Marathon since 1981! Dick Hoyt pushes the wheelchair of his son Rick, who has cerebral palsy. They are running their 33rd Boston Marathon to honor all of those injured and killed in last year’s bombings. Originally, they planned to have the 2013 Marathon be their last, but after their race was cut short they knew that they would do one more.

Team with a Vision

Team with a Vision is running in their 21st Boston Marathon to raise money and awareness for the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI). This inspirational, international team has runners in both the Open Division and the Visually Impaired Division, including some Paralympics hopefuls and a former U.S. Marine. As one Team member says: “I want to model that one can still set ambitious goals in the face of adversity.”

Adrianne Haslet-Davis

Adrianne Haslet-Davis

You may recognize Adrianne Haslet-Davis from her recent TED Talk dancing with her new prosthetic leg. She was watching the 2013 Boston Marathon near the finish line when the bombs went off, and lost the bottom part of her leg. Her twin brothers will be running the marathon this year, and Haslet-Davis will join them in running the final mile of the race.

There are countless other runners with inspiring stories in the 2014 Boston Marathon, including amputee runners, a runner with autism, and groups raising money for local organizations such as Best Buddies, the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts, and Boys and Girls Clubs around Boston. We will be cheering for all of the racers on Monday, and are proud to be Boston Strong!

Temple Grandin on the Importance of Mentors

Kristin meeting Temple Grandin

In her groundbreaking autobiography, The Way I See It, Temple Grandin writes about the role mentors can play for people living with disabilities: “Mentors did, indeed, play a pivotal role in helping me become the person and professional I am today. They can be valuable catalysts to helping the spectrum child or teen learn fundamental study and research skills that will propel them to a future career.” Through programs like Mentor Match, of course, PYD uses mentoring as tool to empower youth with disabilities to reach their full potential.

Mentoring was a theme Grandin talked about during her presentation on Feb. 21 at Gordon College, as part of “Beyond Disabilities,” the school’s week-long series of events raising awareness of disabilities among students and interested members of the community. Titled “Thinking in Pictures: The Ability in Disability,” Grandin described how her mind works and talked about the need for appreciating the strengths in different styles of thinking.

Grandin also talked about the important role mentors have played in her life for fostering her self-esteem and success. In particular, Grandin’s high school science teacher was a significant mentor in her life. The consistent guidance and encouragement of Mr. Carlock was a tremendous help for directing Temple’s path and fostering her accomplishments. Mr. Carlock interested Grandin in science and validated the fact that many of the ideas others called Grandin “crazy” for having were similar to thoughts of well-known philosophers. He also engaged Grandin’s special interests and talents, and used them to motivate her to build an interest in school work.

Just as Mr. Carlock was an instrumental influence in Grandin’s life, Grandin is a mentor for many individuals with Autism and their families, including my own. When my younger brother was diagnosed with Autism, Grandin was a key influence my family turned to for guidance. She has helped us better understand the experience of Autism through her clear articulation of the way she thinks, feels, and communicates. I am grateful for Grandin’s activism—and meeting her for the first time was an incredible joy.

My Excellent Adventure as an AmeriCorps Volunteer with PYD

I remember the first day — August 1, 2013 — of my AmeriCorps service year at PYD as if it were yesterday. I was anxious, excited, and had way too much caffeine coursing through me. I had spent the month before my start doing nothing but making myself nervous about how I would fare in my first “real” job. Eight months later, I can’t believe how much I’ve learned from all of the unique experiences that AmeriCorps offers.

PYD staff hamming it up together

As PYD’s Ambassador of Mentoring, I’ve faced new challenges daily and experienced nearly as many  triumphs. My first major success involved planning PYD’s Mentor Appreciation Night. It is the largest event of the year for the Mentor Match program. Since the event is in October in honor of Disability History Month, I had to begin planning immediately — on my first day, in fact — if I wanted the night to be successful. There were several bumps along the road in which I learned valuable lessons such as the importance of organization and asking for help when it’s needed — small things that seem obvious but are easy to forget when we are wrapped up in day to day tasks. However, overall, the process was successful and I discovered that I really enjoy event planning. Watching every detail of my vision grow from an abstract idea to a successful, large-scale event was exhilarating.

The greatest challenge I’ve faced during my service year is time. Specifically, not having enough of it. I walk away from every training and workshop I attend with my head buzzing full of ideas to bring back to PYD. Despite my best intentions, however, sometimes there just isn’t enough time to complete all the projects that I’d like. In turn, this challenge has given me tremendous, positive experience in prioritization and critical thinking.

That’s the thing about AmeriCorps — through all of the challenges, set-backs, and struggles, I’ve gained important skills and experiences that will benefit me as I move on to other professional challenges. Through my year of service I’ve learned more about myself and what I want out of my career than I ever thought I would. Although I believed that a year of service is important before I started my time with AmeriCorps, now I am certain that it is critical for personal and professional growth.

My brother with autism is awesome (and so is my other brother)

In recognition of World Autism Awareness Day, I want to share my personal experience as a sibling of someone with autism. Among the many worries parents of children with autism experience, I am well aware that the question of how their other children will be affected is a big concern. I’m here to let you know that yes, it will affect siblings, but not necessarily in the way that parents worry it will.

Whenever someone learns that I have a brother with autism, the usual reaction is a question along the lines of, “How has that affected your life?” I’ve always struggled with answering that question. When I was younger, I would respond by simply explaining that I couldn’t keep magazines around the house because my brother, Alex, loved the sound and feel of tearing them apart. That was always the only answer I could give:  “No magazines.” Adults often looked at me strangely, as if they were wondering why I couldn’t understand the many ways my life was different.

Kate with siblings

There are several reasons I did not have a more elaborate answer.  Part of the reason, of course, is that Alex is my older brother. I never went through a familial shift like that experienced by so many kids who have younger siblings with a disability. To put it simply, autism has been a part of my life since day one.  Alex is simply Alex, just like my brother, Eric, is simply Eric.  Both of them were in place before I arrived on this planet, and I never envisioned them being any different than they are.

Another reason I never had a long explanation is because I never thought that the challenges my family faced were really all that different, or more difficult, than the challenges that any other family faces. Sure, my family’s challenges were unique when you looked at specific incidents, but in my eyes, every family had their moments of frustration and their own accommodations to make. No two families I knew had the very same living experiences. Each family and each person is unique, yet when it comes down to it, everyone experiences joy, sadness, triumph, and hardship. Living in a family means sharing and working through those experiences with each other.

I realize now that the perspective I’ve just described is one of the ways I have been affected by my brother’s autism.  When you grow up closely with someone who has a disability, particularly one like autism which can have so many stigmas associated with it, you learn to embrace similarities rather than differences. I have been raised to accept everyone’s differences as just a part of who they are. When asked about my life, I never told people that full, uninterrupted conversations were rare in my house, or that at a very young age, Eric and I had to be prepared to look after each other on a moment’s notice in case my parents needed to take care of Alex during a “meltdown.” Instead, I’ve always viewed those experiences as positive ones through which I developed patience, independence, and maturity.  If I was asked today what effect Alex’s autism had on me, I would still give a short answer, but it would be: “Opportunity.” Alex’s autism has given me the opportunity to meet and know people for who they are, to see and understand others’ viewpoints, and to develop personal qualities of my own.

Kate with Alex

Autism Awareness Day is extremely significant because, to me, it’s a celebration of how far we’ve come. When Alex was born 26 years ago there were few resources and little information that gave families of autism support and guidance. I witnessed many expressions of judgment, confusion, and fear in response to my brother’s actions when I was young. Many of those comments and looks were simply due to a lack of knowledge about and awareness of autism. In the past few decades, there has been significant progress in research, resources, and overall awareness. Disability resource organizations, like PYD, have given families with disabilities the support they need to feel prepared for challenges they may face.

Spending my AmeriCorps service year with PYD has given me an even different perspective on disabilities. I am now able to help families as an outsider providing resources and advice. Having grown up in a family with autism, I know how important it is to have a support system. I’m grateful to be able to be a support not only for my own family but several other families as well. So, let’s spend the month of April sharing our stories, advice, and knowledge to make our community an inclusive one that accepts people of all abilities!

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