A consistent, crisp fall breeze casts aside the usual humidity of a South Florida suburb, beckoning an air of growth and change along with it. It’s Thanksgiving morning 1995 and a six-year-old girl with straight bangs of blonde meets two sisters, the new next door neighbors, in her cul de sac. She didn’t know at the time, but their next eight years of friendship would be shaped by the lessons of inclusion, acceptance, understanding and also unconditional love for one of the sisters, who happened to use a wheelchair.
I was introduced to Spinal Muscular Atrophy when these “girls next door” moved from New Jersey to my slice of innocence one morning. Our families bonded, and my friendship with the two sisters took flight through screen-free outdoor exploration and adventure. Our lives would be changed forever as we attempted to understand the love, challenge, hurt and, sadly, the inevitable loss that accompanies raising a child with different physical abilities.
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I always knew I wanted to be in a profession that helped others. I was shaped by the values of openness, kindness, inclusion and love that my family and community reinforced during my childhood. A listener, observer and creative allowed me to pivot with my interests in serving others. When I began college at Emory University, my coursework led me to pursue psychology and I was captivated by the mysteriousness of the brain, human behavior and the possibility of recovery. Inspired by a pivotal mentorship in 2010, I leapt into pursuing clinical psychology from the front lines at the McLean-Franciscan Child & Adolescent Inpatient Program and never looked back.
When your work doesn’t feel like a “job,” you know it clicks. When you’re thirsty to learn more and extend your heart and soul to all those who need tools to understand the inner workings of their minds, I knew it aligned in my universe.
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We rode the school bus together to our neighborhood elementary school, I chose to sit in the back of the bus, despite my dreaded motion-sickness, craning my neck to talk to my pal who was secured safely to the bus wheelchair lift. I often commandeered her security once aboard. As we bumped along, I ensured her head and neck were stable for the duration of the ride. What people often misunderstand is the physical appearance and speech delivery of individuals with SMA do not reflect their intelligence. My friend often outwitted fellow students, peers and staff. Her courage and spunk broke through the shadows of adversity, never stopping her from living life to the fullest or trying something new. I learned to jump in and ride the rough roads after her sometimes, no matter the risk.
My girl next door passed away in 2003. While she is no longer physically present to witness this work in action, I strongly believe her spirit guides the mission of the empowering work I have cultivated here. I honor her, my dear friend, for lighting the path for me all these years.
I am thrilled to initiate my private practice in South Florida, Empowering Strategies,LLC, the site and scene of my upbringing, my impetus to welcome young people with unconditional positive love and respect, regardless of their abilities to this space to explore the meaning of individuality, potential, and to put in the work of unpacking the challenges of life and emotion.