Self-advocate and AHRC Nassau board member Jessica Campbell was recently invited to speak to The Arc New York Board of Governors at their annual meeting in Albany. Below are Jessica’s remarks on the power of natural supports and advocating to lead the life you choose.
My name is Jessica Campbell. Thank you for inviting me to share my experiences and how AHRC Nassau has supported me to live a better, more independent life. I am honored to be here today. First, I’d like to let you know I lived in a group home (not AHRC, another agency) for 21 years and didn’t know my rights. I couldn’t access my food or my money, and couldn’t go where I wanted to go when I wanted.
I was happy until I was shown that things could be different. My life started to change, when I joined AHRC Nassau’s Day Council. I met Joyce Guarneiri, the council advisor and learned about my rights. That was when I started to change my thinking.
Then I joined AHRC’s Executive Council were I met Colleen Tapia, the council advisor and learned about SANYS. Colleen introduced me to Bridget Carriello and helped me to get my first job at SANYS.
Today Joyce and Colleen are my friends — my natural supports. They support me when I need assistance making decisions.
Then I decided to move. There were a lot of restrictions in the group home which I realized I didn’t like. I spoke to people at AHRC (Colleen, Joyce and Karen) and they helped me to move to an AHRC apartment in Wantagh.
It was better. I was living with one person instead of ten, but not perfect. Then I learned about self-direction. I also met people at SANYS who were living self-directed lives. Lives with more freedom and flexibility. I liked the idea of hiring my own staff and not being assigned staff. So I spoke to Colleen and got her support to move forward with self-direction.
I moved to an apartment of my own three years ago. It’s great! I was able to go to my first concert, go on a cruise (one of my bucket list items which I’ve always dreamed of) and meet new people who are not tied to an agency.
I love my life now. I can eat shrimp everyday if I want to or buy 3 packs of cookies if I want to. I have freedom, flexibility to change my schedule in the middle of the day, money to buy food that I want and no medical restrictions. I do what I want and need to do. I also currently work at:
- AHRC Nassau as a rights advocate.
- SANYS as a field assistant where I share my story to help other people.
- The Independent Living Center where I help people transition from provider agencies to living in the community.
- I also was appointed to the AHRC Nassau Board of Directors – two years ago. Now I have the opportunity to voice my opinions and impact the whole agency.
When I started my journey, a lot of people told me I couldn’t do these things like work, live on my own, travel without support. . . because of my disabilities. I would like to thank AHRC Nassau for educating and guiding me. The support and information set me on a path that led to all these opportunities – and a great life!