Supporting People with Disabilities as a Disabled Woman

Susannah in a pink turtleneck with the text of supporting people with disabilities as a disabled woman

This blog was written by PYD’s Program Specialist, Susannah Woodford.

The start of a new year means many things—hope for things to come, New Year’s Resolutions, and brisk weather, to name a few—but for those of us involved in mentoring programs, it also means National Mentoring Month. Each January, mentoring programs all around the country take time to celebrate the difference that mentors make in the lives of their mentees. Here at Partners for Youth with Disabilities, it is no different. January is a time to be thankful for and celebrate all of our program participants, as we truly could not make the impact we do without the amazing mentors and mentees that we at PYD have the pleasure of serving. So, if you are one of the many program participants at PYD, thank you!

How Being a Part of PYD Impacted Me

At the start of a new year, I tend to become rather reflective. This may be due to the bleak weather, perhaps it’s the fact that my birthday comes right at the beginning of the new year, and so I have to wrestle with the existentialism of growing older. However, this January I am reflecting on something a little different. In May of 2022, I had the pleasure of joining Partners for Youth with Disabilities as a Program Specialist in the One-to-One Mentoring Program. For some, this might’ve simply been a new job. However, for me, it was much more personal than that. As a disabled woman myself, it had been hard to find a career field that felt right. I tried teaching for a little while. However, the physical and mental effort that it takes to teach is truly a feat that I could not muster. Trying to not only use a wheelchair, but also lug around a feeding tube bag and accessories was simply not feasible for me. Additionally, when you teach in a school, it is hard to call in sick, need to take off for surgery, and so on and so forth. So, in February of 2022, I went on short-term disability for the second time in my life at the ripe age of 25. I felt lost. I didn’t think I would ever find a place where I felt like I truly belonged. Then, one day in April, I saw a posting for a position that seemed almost too good to be true.

The amazing thing about working for Partners for Youth with Disabilities is that it wasn’t too good to be true, in fact, it’s better than I could have ever imagined. I am surrounded by a community of coworkers who not only care deeply about the youth they serve, but also about each other. I am given the flexibility to take off when I feel too poorly to work, and I have never been shamed for needing to take off for yet another surgery.

Being disabled is difficult—not because my body doesn’t cooperate the way I would like it to, but because the world does not accommodate me. However, Partners for Youth with Disabilities, with their focus on helping youth with disabilities “lead self-determined lives filled with purpose” does just that. They accommodate me. In turn, I have been able to flourish at PYD. For the first time in my career, I feel like I not only succeed, but am given the opportunity to excel at my work.

The Importance of Having a Mentor

I didn’t know what National Mentoring Month was before I started working at PYD, but I wish I had. I wish there had been a program like PYD in Florida, where I grew up, and that I could’ve had a mentor to help me flourish. In my current position, I am given the opportunity not only to help match mentors with mentees, but also to help facilitate that relationship, and to make sure that the youth with disabilities in Massachusetts are given a chance that I was not—to have a mentor trained by pioneers in the field of disability mentoring. In fact, the leading body of work on mentoring, the “Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring,” just added a supplemental work authored by some of the best minds at PYD: “Inclusive Mentoring for Youth with Disabilities.” It is such a privilege to get to be a part of an organization like Partners for Youth with Disabilities. PYD not only aims to serve youth with disabilities but continues their mission in their hiring practices and how they treat their employees.

So, happy National Mentoring Month! To all of the mentors and mentees that I get to work with, thank you for helping continue this incredibly important work. Again, PYD could not have the impact that we do without the participants and volunteers in our community. For those currently involved in our programs, we look forward to seeing you at Mentor Appreciation Night. And for those who have been considering joining our programs, in whatever capacity you have been considering, I highly recommend it. It has been the most fulfilling work and community that I have ever had the pleasure of interacting with. Happy National Mentoring Month, and may 2023 be a very good year.