“I’ll Retire When I Die”
Mary Moore has been working at the Center for Independence (CFI) since October 1st, 1998. Twenty years at the same job may not seem so remarkable until you realize that Mary is a person born with Cerebral Palsy. As a person with a disability, Mary has carved out a meaningful and important place for herself in the workforce. She is the American’s with Disabilities Act Specialist and an Independent Living Advocate at CFI.
A highly educated person, Mary has a Bachelor’s degree in Cinema-Television with divisional honors from USC. Mary also has a Masters degree in Library Science with an emphasis in archives from Simmons College in Boston. Her original goal was to become a Film Archivist. Mary believes she would have been successful in that career. So how did Mary end up working for a non-profit, helping people with disabilities?
She was living in California and wanted a change. After praying about it for some time, Mary was guided to move to Colorado and more specifically Grand Junction. Her family was tremendously supportive and they all took a train trip to Grand Junction. They left the train station and went directly to the Center for Independence. Mary had never seen or heard of an Independent Living Center like CFI, and she was very impressed. Four months later two staff members from CFI came to Mary’s home and asked her if she would like to work at the center. They invited her to apply for a job co-facilitating a new program for Youth with Disabilities.
Twenty years later Mary is in charge of CFI’s PACT (Positive Access to Community Transitions) program – An educational program for young people with disabilities. The program’s goal it to help the young people become independent as they can be by their own definition of independence. It is a peer support group where the issues of social acceptance or rejection of people with disabilities is openly discussed.
How does it feel to have worked at CFI for 20 years? “Amazing.” Mary says she loves her job and is not the least bit tired of it. She says she can’t wait to come to work. She is grateful to be a part of an organization that changes people’s lives.
Working is a tremendously important to Mary’s sense of self and self-esteem because it allows her to contribute to something larger than herself. Feeling like she is making a difference in her world is hugely important to Mary. She wants other people to see her leading a full, productive life, despite any disabilities she has.
Mary says she is grateful for the administration and staff and mission of CFI. She believes it takes a team of people to accomplish CFI’s mission. CFI is unique in that 70% of the people who work there have a disability. The idea is to support, inspire and mentor others with a disability to consider working. “If they can do it maybe I can do it. “Mary hopes her story will promote more employers giving people with disabilities an opportunity to work. Statistically, people with disabilities are more dedicated, bring a unique set of skills to the table, and don’t take working for granted. They are not likely to be trying to move their way up the corporate ladder. More so, they believe in the mission of their work
What makes Mary Moore, a person with a disability, so happy and successful in her job? Mary says that the most important thing was just to be given the opportunity to work, to continue pursuing educational opportunities all these years, and having variety in her job. Working with youth inspires Mary and makes her passionate and enthusiastic about her work. Mary also mentions that she has needed some important accommodations that have allowed her to be successful and continue to work throughout the years. She has a service dog, Embree, who picks thinks up for her. Secondly, Mary uses Dragon Naturally Speaking software which allows her to verbally dictate information into her computer.
As the years have passed, Mary has had to deal with a decrease in mobility and moving from walking with crutches to using a scooter to get around. Her supportive family and strong faith coupled with an amazing work environment keep her motivated and going strong at work. “Helping others is very important to me.”
The easiest part of Mary’s job at CFI is being able to teach youth with disabilities. She is excited to be able to teach life skills to the youth, many of which are not taught in school. Mary hopes she can touch the lives of the young people she works with like a teacher in middle school who touched and changed her life. She is inspired to be like her former, teacher, Dr. Sinkler., who “changed my life”. Like Dr. Sinkler., Mary tries to give her youth new ideas, teach them how to advocate for themselves, and expand their world view and their idea of themselves. Mary believes in the “dignity of risk” for her young people and all persons with or without a disability. Locating affordable housing for people is also a difficult but extremely gratifying part of her job.
The most difficult part of Mary’s job is problem solving with people in crisis: people who haven’t felt heard, people struggling with psychiatric issues, substance abuse, domestic violence and poverty. “Its’s hard to tell people I can’t help them with all their issues.” Mary says the most important thing is to be honest, sensitive and empathetic. Mary learned these skills from her parents and grandparents who always helped other people and were a huge part of her life. As a Psychologist, Mary’s mom was a big influence on her and, in part, she learned how to be sensitive and empathetic from her. Her father was a newscaster who always carried a camera with him. When young Mary asked her father why he did that he told her he might need to capture an injustice in order to stop it. Both of Mary’s parents were involved in the civil rights movement. Mary learned early on that “we have a responsibility to be sensitive to one another”.
Retirement is not in Mary’s future. She says she will “retire when I die”. Because of her disabilities, Mary’s family encouraged her to travel and do the things she dreamed early in her life because her condition would probably worsen over time. Mary has traveled the world: Africa, Australia, Sychelles Islands, Amsterdam, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Canada, Mexico, and across the US. She rode in a Hot Air Balloon over Africa, saw giant tortoises in the Sychelles Islands, has horse-packed into the West Elk Wilderness many times, landed a 577-pound Blue Marlin after 4 ½ hours in Hawaii and did a tandem Sky-Dive.
Mary is grateful to be of service. Her plan is to keep going. She is happy to be working, giving of herself and leading a productive life.
Editorial Note: Mary inspires her fellow workers with her cheerful optimism in the face of personal and professional challenges. She is one of those inspirational citizens of the world who make us glad to know her.