Stacy Ellingen

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Stacy’s Journal:  Giving Back

By: Stacy Ellingen
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Whether it’s Loaves and Fishes, Optimist Club, donating blood, or something else, most people enjoy giving to others.  Volunteering or being active in the community often makes people feel good about themselves.  For many people with disabilities, it often seems impossible to give back to the community.  Barriers such as transportation, communication, or just simply physically being able to do the task at hand often prevent our ability to volunteer.

Growing up, my mom was always involved in something it seems.  Whether it was teaching Sunday school, serving on church council, or being the President of the ARC, she was and continues to be involved in something.  My sister followed her example by volunteering at the hospital in high school and now she volunteers with a spinal cord injury group in the Madison area.  Due to my physical limitations, I had to find different ways that I could give back and be involved in the community.

Although I probably didn’t realize it, I started giving back when I was really young.  Beginning in elementary school, almost every year I would make a presentation to my class about why I was the way I was.  Obviously, for the first few years, it was pretty basic and didn’t go into much detail about what actually happened during my birth, but, as we got older, I went into more detail.  My message always was that I’m just like all of you except my muscles don’t work like they’re supposed to.  It helped my classmates understand and feel comfortable with my circumstances.  In high school, I also presented to a couple of speech classes about the different communication methods I used.

In college, I occasionally was invited to speak to education classes about living with a disability.  The students in these classes were going to be teachers and were interested in how teachers accommodated me.   I still occasionally speak to classes at UW-Oshkosh.  It’s a little nerve-racking because these students are really listening to what I’m saying and may someday use something I talked about in their own classroom.  It’s also very rewarding to me because future teachers are learning from me!

I was fortunate to have an incredible opportunity for a few years while I was in college to be a volunteer columnist for my hometown newspaper.  What started out as a failed job shadow tour (because, at the time, the newspaper layout room wasn’t accessible), turned into an incredible experience.  Every other week, I wrote a column about living with a disability.  I wrote about all different topics.  It was very well received by the community and the exposure was great.

Like as everybody says, the Internet has opened up a whole new world.  As I’ve explained in a previous entry, I’ve been a part of many online disability support groups for many years.  First, it was egroups; as the web advanced, groups emerged on social media sites.  These groups not only allow people to share valuable information with one another, it also allows people to share experiences and develop relationships with those with similar circumstances.  I’ve been able to connect with many parents of younger children who have cerebral palsy.  I’ve shared my experiences, answered questions, and offered advice on various topics.  By doing that, I feel like I’m “giving back” in some small way.  It’s really a great feeling.

Recently, I have been able to get involved with some disability advocacy councils.  Last year, I was appointed to the Wisconsin Independent Living Council.  The Council runs the eight Independent Living Centers across the state.  While I’m still learning the ropes, being a member makes me feel like I’m contributing.  I’ve applied to a couple more boards and councils, and I hope to get more involved in disability advocacy efforts soon. 

While I may not be able to “give to the common good” in a traditional way, I find other ways to contribute to society.  I truly believe every single person on Earth, regardless of his/her circumstances, has something to give.  Sometimes, a person’s gifts and talents may not be blatantly obvious, but if we take time to dig deep enough, I believe you’ll find a special talent in everyone! 

***The views expressed here are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of InControl Wisconsin, the Network or any of our sponsors.


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