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'Who I Am' to emphasize strengths of living with disability

October 22, 2010

Jill Hrinda-Patten is the president of Mission Empower, an organization that uses education and advocacy to integrate youth with disabilities into all aspects of life within their communities. Hrinda-Patten will be one of the presenters at the "Who I Am" event Sunday.

Living with a disability can often strengthen a person, give them a more positive outlook on life and allow them to inspire others to reach their maximum potential. Those ideas are key components of an upcoming presentation, "Who I Am: Discovering the VALUE in disABILITY," that will be held from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 24 in the St. Marys Catholic Elementary School gymnasium.
The free program, which is sponsored by the Office of Disability and Deaf Ministries of the Erie Diocese, is designed to help diminish stereotypes about people with disabilities and demonstrate that all people have value.
Cindy Dollinger, one of the coordinators of the event, said she and some other parents who have children with disabilities felt there was a need for the presentation, so they reached out to the diocese to see what was available. "We were just talking about the benefits of living with people with disabilities, and we thought we'd like to share that with the community," Dollinger said.
She and the other local coordinators, Gretchen Meyer and Lori Rakieski, worked with the diocese to design a program that would allow people with disabilities to share their stories in a cheerful, straightforward environment and illustrate how living through the challenges they face daily helps them contribute a wealth of talent, knowledge and experience to society. The PEAL Center (Parent Education and Advocacy Leadership), a Pittsburgh-based advocacy group, is cosponsoring the event.
"It was a collaborative effort," Dollinger said. "It just kind of fell into place."
She said refreshments will be served at the free presentation and encouraged the public to attend.
"The purpose is to educate the community about the value people with disabilities have and how they can give back to the community," Dollinger said.
"Who I Am" will feature presentations by three speakers that will highlight the value of true diversity and treating all people with respect.
Jill Hrinda-Patten, the president of Mission Empower, will discuss the importance of education, advocacy and empowerment, and a group known as the Stereotype Busters will use skits to help teach the audience how to interact with people who have disabilities. They will also answer questions about things that people may have wanted to know, but were too uncomfortable to ask.
Marilyn Keyes, the next speaker, will discuss how her family has lived through the challenges and joys of having a child with a disability. Craig Dietz, a native of St. Marys who now works for the Pittsburgh city government, will talk about redefining potential and how anyone, regardless of whether they have a disability or not, can overcome challenges to reach his or her true potential.
Dollinger said people with disabilities have the same need to be valued as any other member of society.
"They are who they are, and they want to be known for who they are, not for what they can't do," Dollinger said.

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