Career Advice from My Kindergarten Self

“If you could be anything you want when you grow up, what would you be?” my kindergarten teacher asked us. That’s easy, I thought. I would be a firefighter, police officer, soldier, veterinarian, doctor, or chef.  She helped me write my ideas down on my paper, and I promptly forgot all about this exercise. Until this past summer.

For a week in August, I went to a unique sleep-away camp for disabled young women ages 13-17 called EmpowHer Camp. The purpose of the camp was to help us develop confidence and leadership skills. We lived outside and survived by taking care of ourselves and each other at an accessible campground. We learned how to build fires, cook our own meals from scratch, drink from a lake, and many other survival skills. (It wasn’t all hard work. There were also plenty of s’mores and lots of singing around the campfire.)

Cooking was a big focus. We all had designated days to help make meals for the rest of the camp, including the counselors, who were successful disabled women working as our mentors. I don’t know if it was the chance to get extra practice building a fire on a chilly morning or just being hungry, but on my assigned days, the moment I woke up I couldn’t wait to go straight to the kitchen and help with whatever I could get my grubby little hands on.

The best part of helping in the kitchen area wasn’t the food preparation. It was working while also getting to know the camp chef. Her name is Kelly, and she founded an amazing organization called Kelly’s Kitchen. Its purpose is to promote healthy nutrition in the whole community, with a focus on providing education on ways to access healthy food. Spending extra time in the kitchen area, I learned a lot from Kelly about how difficult it is sometimes for disabled people to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, especially during disasters and emergencies. Kelly also taught me about all the fresh produce that could go to people in need but how it just gets wasted and thrown into landfills because it has a weird or funny shape or color.

I found this topic so interesting and motivating and am hoping to learn more about the problem of food insecurity in the disability community. I would like to be able to help volunteer or work to address this problem in some way. I am also thinking about the dangers to our environment and our food supply in an elective class I am taking in school right now called “Global Issues in STEM.” I am seeing how all these problems in the world fit together.

Now that I am in 10th grade, I am starting to think a lot more practically about my future and my career, and experiences like camp help so much. They give me the chance to try new things and meet new people, and that’s how I learn more about myself, what I like (toasted marshmallows and sleeping under the stars) and don’t like (wet clothes and mosquitos), what comes naturally (teamwork), and what is more of a struggle (self-advocacy).

 As I look back on my intense week living in the forest, I realize I actually may have been onto something way back in kindergarten. I won’t be rushing up the stairs in a burning building in my wheelchair. Still, thanks to camp, I can appreciate that all the grownup jobs I considered at age six have some things in common. They were all hands-on, action-oriented jobs that involve helping or showing care for others. Those are the same things I am drawn to today. That must mean something.

So, what lies ahead? I still am not sure exactly. There are so many options out there. All I know for certain is that with my Quantum Power Wheelchair with iLevel® technology, I can reach so much more…literally!!! The choices are only limited by my imagination.

About Maddie Kasten: Maddie is a Q Roll Model for Quantum Rehab. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and enjoys participating in adaptive sports, playing video games and watching anime. Click here to learn more about Maddie.