Growing up different from others makes life hard. Whether the difference is mental or physical, visible or invisible, you need someone who actually understands what you’re going through to guide you.
January is National Mentoring Month, and so I want to give some love to my mentors. I’ve written about Kelly Timmons, who I met this past summer at camp. She is mentoring me this year as I explore the issue of food insecurity in the disability community. Kelly is an incredibly kind and supportive person who makes me feel like I can do anything.
I’d also like to give a shout out to Stephanie Woodward, who I first met through the Disability EmpowHer Network, an organization that sponsors a camp I attended. She is not officially a mentor, but Stephanie has helped me in too many ways to count. I would say the biggest thing I have learned from Stephanie is to feel proud of having a disability and not to feel like I must apologize or feel ashamed about it in any way.
Stephanie also introduced me to another amazing disabled woman named Mia Ives-Rublee. She is a wheelchair user, Asian and transracially adopted, just like me. As I grew up, I started to feel like I was the only person in the world like me, and I wasn’t sure how I would fit in or achieve success. Being introduced to Mia showed me that there are paths to success for women like us. Mia is now the director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress!
The mentor I’ve known the longest is the founder and principal of my school, Dana Herzberg. I’ve mentioned before that I have dyslexia and ADHD, which is why I go to a school for kids with learning disabilities. I met Ms. Dana when I first started at the school, in first grade. Dana also grew up with dyslexia, so she knows how frustrating it can be to struggle with reading. She created our school, because she noticed that kids with reading and other learning issues often need to learn in a different way.
Our school offers specialized reading programs along with hands-on and visual learning methods, and this really helps kids like me. Dyslexia didn’t stop Ms. Dana from reaching her goals. She reminds me all the time that there is nothing I cannot do if I set my mind to it. She tells me that I might have to work harder than other people to achieve my goals, but with a little determination I can get there. I’ve known her since I was little and her dedication has meant so much to me. She is almost like another mom to me.
So, here’s a big THANK YOU to all my wonderful mentors. You have made such a big difference in my life, and I am very, very grateful!
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.