Keith Louis was born and raised in Newark, NJ. As a young child, Keith underwent a traumatizing experience that almost took his life. Through his perseverance to adjust to the changes this experience caused, Keith was able to prove new things to himself almost every day such as teaching himself how to read and count money. Although Keith was displaced from his home many times growing up, he went on to attend school at Willowglen Academy and the Federation of Multicultural Programs of New Jersey. Keith thrived in these environments as he engaged in hands on learning, joined sports teams and more. Eventually, Keith received his first job as an assistant secretary, dispatcher and maintenance worker at the Federation of Multicultural Programs of New Jersey. He maintained this position for seven years but eventually had to leave because Social Security began to reduce his benefits as he was making too much money to qualify for aid.
Keith became a member of CAU in June 2011. He immediately became involved with the self-advocacy movement through the encouragement of Helping Hands President, Sidney Katz. Keith’s reasons for joining the self-advocacy movement range from his great desire to help others and to learn more about the grave issues facing the disability community. Through his self-advocacy skills, Keith gained employment through CAU as a member of the cleaning crew for approximately six months until he transitioned to his current position as a security guard for the main office parking lot. Keith credits his acquisition of independent living skills through interactions with other self-advocates and attending Helping Hands meetings. He has also learned why it is important to discredit the usage of the R-word and the importance of respecting others.
Although Keith has never lived in a developmental center, he believes they should be closed because it is another way for the system to control vulnerable populations. Keith personally experienced the negative aspects of going through the child welfare system so he feels that he can relate to some of the experiences shared by those in developmental centers. Moreover, Keith feels strongly about protecting disability programs that assist people with employment, education, housing and more. Keith would like the opportunity to have a full-time job in the community and without the supports of integrated employment settings; he may have a harder time reaching his goals if such programs receive inadequate funding.
In the future, Keith hopes to acquire more living skills, to learn more about past self-advocacy leaders as a means to materialize his own leadership skills, and to attend more self-advocacy events. However, Keith is already well on his way as he attended his first self-advocacy event in New York City concerning the mechanisms used by FEMA to help people with disabilities in disasters and other emergencies. Keith hopes to one day move into his own home and eventually raise a family.
Gabby became a member of CAU in August 2007 where she entered through its ECS Roselle program. Gabby moved through various supported living programs until she finally settled in Roselle, NJ. Gabby says that she has always been a self-advocate because she never had an issue speaking up for herself. “I am not ashamed to have a disability because I have learned how to accept myself for who I am.” Gabby enjoys giving back to others as she avidly searches for volunteer opportunities in the community. Gabby has begun to meet this need by attending self-advocacy events through the New American Movement for People with Disabilities.
Gabby’s first self-advocacy event was the Second Annual Disability Pride Parade in October 2012, in which she enjoyed very much. After a brief hiatus, Gabby decided to join NAM for the FEMA Region II Disability Stakeholders meeting in New York City on November 28th, 2012. Now that she is back in action, she’s eagerly awaiting the next opportunity to get involved and support the movement. Gabby also plans to apply for a position through FEMA Corps, in which she would serve as a disaster relief aid for individuals all around the United States with other young people like herself. “Since I like helping people so much, I want to volunteer for FEMA. It makes me feel good that they give people with disabilities a chance. When I know I have the ability to help others, it puts me in a good mood all day”. Gabby also appreciated the fact that one of the presenters at the FEMA briefing was a man with a disability. “It made me happy to see a person with a disability as a FEMA representative because people with disabilities are normal people, they just need a little more help than others.”
In the future, Gabby plans to coordinate a group for young people with disabilities who have gone through a lot of surgeries growing up as Gabby can relate very well. She wants to create a support system for these people and provide comfort when needed. With the help of Community Access, Gabby hopes to recruit people in the community and provide advice. Along with volunteering for the movement, Gabby is also looking for volunteer opportunities at animal shelters.