Trigger warning: this story contains mention of sexual assault.
Seria is passionate about building community for people with disabilities.
“I just love helping people,” said Seria. “I’m so ready to get back out in the community and support people like me.”
Seria is a proud member of Independence First, an organization that empowers people with disabilities through advocacy, independent living skills, and more. Your donations to United Way support multiple programs at Independence First.
Seria was a shy 12-year-old when she encountered Independence First. But as she participated in their school-based programming, Seria began to come out of her shell.
“People with disabilities can be a little nervous to open up to others,” said Seria. “Independence First brings people with disabilities together and teaches us how to advocate for ourselves.”
Eventually, Seria joined the United Way-supported Youth Leadership Program at Independence First, which included participation in “Making Proud Choices!” a comprehensive sex education and healthy relationships curricula supported by United Way’s Healthy Youth initiative.
“People don’t think (people with disabilities) can have sex, get pregnant, and have a family,” said Seria. “I’m like ‘well, can you do it?!’”
As a “Making Proud Choices!” student, Seria felt comfortable participating and asking questions. However, she noticed that many of her classmates were nervous or reluctant to participate. So, Seria used her people skills to help her classmates feel at ease.
Independence First staff like Kristen adapted the curricula to apply to the unique experiences of people with disabilities. For example, rates of sexual assault are higher among people with disabilities, so Kristen and other teachers expanded lessons around building trust, noticing red flags, and how to say “no.”
“It’s so important to give people a safe space to talk about these experiences,” said Kristen. “Seria was so helpful in these classes. She would sit with people, talk with them, and ask their questions for them if they’re feeling uncomfortable.”
After graduating from the program, Instructor Kristen asked Seria to come back as a mentor. Though classes went virtual during COVID-19, Seria and Indpendence First are excited to get back in person together this year.
“Independence First is like my second home,” said Seria with a smile. “I just love it here!”
When you give to United Way, you’re not just making a donation, you’re changing a life. Seria and Independence First remind us all that, to live better, we must Live United.