Finding Her Voice: Lizzie’s Journey with PYD

We’re pleased to welcome Elizabeth as a guest blogger. She’s an MHC and ATT participant, John Hancock MLK Summer Scholar, and recipient of the Chris Dunne Award. 

Elizabeth with her friends at Access to Theatre

My name is Elizabeth Gray.

My journey began in middle school where I faced many challenges. I had been diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, effecting my legs and had a language based learning disability. My mobility was impaired and I could not learn the same way as a typical student. I realized I didn’t have a voice in the accommodations that would work for me.  I didn’t know what was available to me. I do know I was not treated like other typical students. Perhaps due to my own disabilities and experiences I have chosen this path to make a difference in the lives of others. In high school, I became involved with Partners for Youth with Disabilities. By getting involved with them my life began to make sense and my transition began.

I went to Making Healthy Connections, which is a PYD program that takes place at the Oak Square YMCA in Brighton. We meet every couple of weeks and there is a speaker who discusses real topics that affect our lives. For example, nutrition, housing or substance abuse. At the end there is time to socialize with friends. I also became involved with another of their programs Access to Theater. This program helps those with disabilities to express themselves through acting and improve. The group meets at Mass Hospital School in Canton. It is amazing to see those with seemingly obstacles participate and enjoy acting, engaging and having fun.

From there, Deep Chinappa, the head of Outreach and Recruitment for PYD asked me to participate in their Peer Leader program. I was happy to accept and it continued to be clear to me that I wanted my career to be advocating and helping others.

The summer after high school, PYD offered me a summer internship. I had the opportunity to be the John Hancock Martin Luther King Summer Scholar 2014. This taught me what it was like to work in an office setting and be more independent. It taught me a lot about leadership and team building I began to realize I am the best advocate for myself.

PYD asked me to go to Mentoring Day at the State House and facilitate a group there. It was amazing to hear legislators talk about their work. Funding issues is always a topic foremost on their minds to cover programming beneficial to all communities. I was able to meet people representing many organizations as well as State Representatives.

Before I graduated from high school in 2014, I applied and interviewed to be a part of the Youth Leadership Forum that takes place for 3 days in mid-July at Bridgewater State University.  It is  sponsored by Easter Seals. Those who attend are Delegates and Peer Leaders. Peer leaders are participants that have been out of high school for at least one year. The delegates are high school students. This overnight is for youths and young adults between the ages of 16 to 26 years old, with the goal of educating participants about resources within the disability community. The focus is on their rights as an individual with a disability. Some of the discussions and speakers talk about adaptive technology, phone apps, and the Americans with Disability Act. They inform us about how changes in the law have helped make life easier over time. Last summer, I was a peer leader and helped facilitate group activities for the delegates.

I am now attending Massasoit Community College. I was terrified about going to College and all the changes it entailed. As the semester went on I got a little more comfortable each day with the scheduling. On campus I was lucky to find the Helping Hands Club. The goal of the club is to educate students about the disability community. This semester I became Vice President.

During the winter of my first semester, I hurt my knee and needed to begin using a scooter to get around the campus. It worked out well and I did not let my injury stop me from completing the semester. In fact, I got an award from the Latch Program at Massasoit that goes to a student who overcame challenges.

Elizabeth at Mentor Appreciation Night 2015 receiving the Chris Dunne Award.In the same year, Partners for Youth with Disabilities presented me with the Chris Dunn Award. This award was for demonstrating strong leadership and being a role model for others.  This year, I was able to meet the Dunne family which made the award even more special to me.

Last summer, I got to have the most amazing opportunity to work as Camp Counselor at Massachusetts Hospital School located in Canton, Mass. I worked in the transition program with campers that were between the ages of 18 to 22 years old. I learned so much about them and about myself and it helped me to solidify the career path I wanted to pursue.  I have chosen to major in Human Services.

This year I have become the YLN (Youth Leadership Network) Intern for Easter Seals in East Bridgewater. I am responsible for working with groups of young adults on activities about transition. Summarizing the events, taking pictures, and preparing information for their website. This past year I also became a Member of the Board of Directors at Independence Associates located in East Bridgewater. They work with individuals that have many different types of disabilities and provide them with the resources that can help them live more independently. It is a complete honor for me to be on a board with such amazing, focused and dedicated people.

I know my journey is just beginning and my true goal is to make a difference in the lives of others. I want to be the voice for those that need help finding their own. It is through the opportunities offered to me by Partners for Youth with Disabilities, Independence Associates, and Easter Seals that have helped reinforce the direction I want to take. I hope to be a role model or mentor to others as those I have had the honor of working with so far.

More about Lizzie: 

Her favorite activity to do at Making Healthy Connections (MHC)? Basketball and talking with friends

How has MHC helped you? Self-confidence and making friends

What is your favorite:

Thing to do? Shopping

Food? Spaghetti

Dessert? Ice cream Sundae

Movie? The Blindside

TV Show? America’s Got Talent

Sports team? The New England Patriots

Athlete? Alicia Sacramone

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