Alyssa has always loved sports, but her path to YC wasn’t a smooth one. Her childhood included transitions between parents, schools, neighborhoods and social circles. Stability was an obvious void.
Knowing her competitive nature, classmates at Valley Forge HS and regular YC participants tried for years to convince Alyssa to “just give YC a try; it will change your life”.
In 2009, she finally said “yes”!
Her first few months at YC were rocky. Outreach Coordinator Lisa Friel, Program Manager Sarah Perez-Stable, and Director of Program Services Chris Garr worked to keep Alyssa active and help her to find the benefits of YC. Through long-term support, encouragement, and commitment from YC teen volunteers and staff, Alyssa blossomed; she found friendship, a consistent, nurturing environment, and a place to be an athlete.
During her senior year of high school, Alyssa found herself playing the role of catalyst for many of the recent advances in YC’s programming. Her desire for competitive sport led her to ASPO (Adaptive Sports Program of Ohio), where she competed in sled hockey and wheelchair basketball with the junior Cavs team. With the collaboration and help of YC, ASPO created a power wheelchair soccer program in 2010 that now has two teams.
During the Spring of 2011, Alyssa became the first female wheelchair track athlete in Ohio to compete in a OHSAA track meet when she raced in 100-- and 200--meter events for Valley Forge. Her desire for opportunity on the athletic field prompted YC to apply to the U.S. Olympic Committee to become a sanctioned Paralympic Sports Club, and in 2012, we became Paralympic Sports Club Cleveland.
While Alyssa transitioned to post high-school life, without the reliability of a set-schedule and on-site special education specialists monitoring her on a daily basis, YC embarked upon uncharted waters by introducing the YELP (Youth Empowerment and Leadership Program). Available to teen and college-aged participants and volunteers, YELP’s goal is to encourage independence through exposing YC alumni to community resources and institutions committed to serving people with disabilities. YELP calls on community partners like LEAP (Linking Education, Abilities and Potential) and the Metropark’s IGO (Institute for the Great Outdoors) to present opportunities in career exploration, sports and recreation, health care, and independent living.
Alyssa’s involvement with LEAP’s High School Hi-Tech program at Valley Forge helped to make many of LEAP’s professional resources in career discovery, transportation access, heath and Social Security benefits, and housing solutions available to the alumni population at YC. In addition YC’s work with LEAP led to college visits at the University of Akron and Wright State, guest speakers for YELP classes, and served as the impetus for starting the an Intern position.
In the Fall of 2012 Alyssa was offered the 18Up Intern position at YC. In this role, Alyssa learned the behind-the-scenes operations of the YC program staff and assisted with transportation, outreach, and program planning. She was most valuable, however, as a role model for many of the young blossoming athletes at YC though her role as “coach” for many of the Paralympic Sports that were introduced this past season, including seated volleyball, bocce, and wheelchair basketball.
“Being a part of YC has been a life changing experience,” says Alyssa. “The more programs I attended as a participant, the more I could let my walls down. I did not have to pretend to be someone I am not.”