Your Gift Makes a Difference!

“Disability Advocates not only advocates for you, they help you be better at advocating for yourself.” 

Kristen Kelling knows. She first visited Disability Advocates of Kent County in 2016 after she had graduated from college. At that time, she participated in the Employability class especially enjoying the interactive nature of the sessions. As a person with a visual impairment, Kristen was anxious to know how best to put her college degree to work. Kristen remembered, “In the class, you didn’t just sit and learn; you practiced it and really learned!”   

Shortly after participating in the Employability class, Kristen started volunteering by placing Braille on Disability Advocates’ business cards. After that, she helped our Advocacy team with workshops that covered subjects like transportation and housing issues for persons with disabilities. 

And when you are a great volunteer (so much so that she was named “Volunteer of the Year” in 2017), more assignments come your way! Kristen became a front desk volunteer and then became active with our advocacy efforts such as when she spoke at Disability Advocates’ legislative coffees to ensure that our state representatives and other local elected leaders are fully aware of the challenges faced by and concerns of persons with disabilities along with the solutions she and others proposed. 

When Disability Advocates’ Absolutely Accessible Kent project started rolling through the streets of downtown Grand Rapids, it is no surprise that Kristen became involved. One event had Kristen working with a group of four with disabilities of all kinds and a few design professionals. They walked and rolled from the Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. office to the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel to check the accessibility of the entire hotel. “It was interesting to collaborate with folks with other disabilities.”   

Kristen thoroughly enjoys her work with Disability Advocates (and, like all of us, can’t wait to get back to the office and into the community in 2021!). She says she was a shy young woman when she first came to Disability Advocates and she didn’t know she could advocate for herself. “Disability Advocates gave me the tools for my toolbox to do better for myself.” 

“Give Disability Advocates a call. They will help you or they will know where you can get the help you need,” Kristen advises.

Your financial gifts allow Disability Advocates of Kent County to provide these opportunities and services to persons with disabilities and to work to improve our community’s accessibility for all. As we close out 2020 and look forward to an exciting 2021, we ask you to please consider supporting this important work. Donate here.

Always Keep Climbing

Susan* was just starting her attempt to climb out of a deep hole when she turned to Disability Advocates of Kent County for help. For years, she had faced severe mental health conditions. In this journey, she had been hospitalized, tried many kinds of treatments, experienced suicidal depression and even tried to take her own life.

Because of her disease, she hung out with what some would call “the wrong crowd” through those years. Her home furnishings were destroyed as a result and she nearly lost her home because she was unable to make her mortgage payment. As Susan says, “I had destroyed my life as I knew it.” 

After her attempted death by suicide, she was hospitalized again and received the medication and treatment she needed to begin the climb out of her hole. It was at this time, she realized that one of her friends had already helped her sign up for and receive Social Security Disability benefits. Unfortunately, it was all too confusing – she did not grasp the basic requirements of being a beneficiary, for example, she did not understand what she could and couldn’t do while receiving the benefits. Susan and her best friend, John*, came to Disability Advocates for help demystifying the benefits that were so hard to comprehend. At Disability Advocates, she met with Chloe, one of our Benefits Specialists, but surprisingly enough, that was not the first time she had met Chloe. Turns out Susan and Chloe actually worked together a few years back in a program helping adults with disabilities. Now, she needed Chloe’s help and Chloe was ready to work alongside Susan.

Chloe was able to help Susan and John navigate the ins and outs of receiving the disability benefits. Most importantly, knowing that Susan did want to go back to work when she was ready, Chloe helped her understand how future part-time work might affect the benefits. Susan said, “We felt a huge weight off our shoulders after talking with Chloe… Her help gave me the confidence to go on.”

Through much self-determination, getting on the right medications, receiving the treatment she needed, and learning how her benefits worked and that she could go back to work part time,  Susan began to put her life back together again. She started volunteering, took yoga classes, and realized she was ready and eligible for a part-time job. Today, Susan works as a Peer Support Specialist helping folks with extra life challenges receive the help they need. We are glad that we were here when Susan asked for help. Now, we are asking for yours. 

Your help is needed so that we can continue to provide these crucial services. Please consider a gift of support for Disability Advocates of Kent County, you can donate here.
PS – Due to the CARES Act, your gift to Disability Advocates of Kent County may provide added tax benefits for you only in 2020 even if you take the standard deduction. Read more on the IRS website linked here or be sure to check with your tax adviser.