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Reflections On My Summer At PEAK

Reflections On My Summer At PEAK

I never would’ve expected to be so deeply impacted by an organization for which I almost missed the interview. Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it seems. 

First, let’s rewind to December of 2020: I applied to PEAK Parent Center through Colorado College’s Public Interest Fellowship Program (PIFP). Flash-forward two months, I was studying abroad in Granada, Spain. February 25, my interview day, did not go as planned, to say the least. I arrived at school that morning to a pop-quiz in The Role of Social and Mass Media in the Arab World. After class, I tried to head home for my interview. But, a worker’s union protest - consisting of laborers from across Southern Spain driving their tractors and blocking off most streets and sidewalks to protest unfair wages - made this extremely difficult. I navigated through the tractors and finally arrived home with ten minutes to spare before the interview, only to find that my AirPods were stolen and my Drivers License had mysteriously disappeared. 

Despite the drama of this wildly hectic morning, I pulled myself together and found myself facetiming Barb and Leann from my closet-sized, pink and emerald colored, spotty WiFi ridden Spanish residencia dorm room, on time and enthusiastically.

A few weeks later, I was hired. 

You might be wondering who I am and why I’m writing this post. My name is Anna Marcus - I’m a rising senior at Colorado College, and this week marks the official end of my fellowship with PEAK Parent Center. I’m writing this blog post in order to reflect on what I’ve learned across my time with PEAK and how I’ve grown through working with families of people with disabilities. 

I pursued the Colorado College Public Interest Fellowship after I completed an internship with the Office of Congresswoman Diana DeGette during the Summer of 2019. Through that internship, I saw first-hand the impact that nonprofit organizations have on real people. Of course, I liked government work, but I knew I wanted to find a way to advocate directly for underserved and underrepresented communities. My question: where could I make real impacts on the lives of people in my community every single day? The answer: PEAK.  

To be candid, I felt qualified for my communications role with PEAK because of my strong written and verbal skills. I knew I could do a good job, but I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of working with families of children with disabilities or if I could even do a good job advocating for a group of people with whom I was not too familiar. 

But, despite these fears and concerns, I was welcomed to PEAK with open arms. Not once did I feel doubted, excluded, or embarrassed about my lack of knowledge. In fact, working with families of people with disabilities has completely revolutionized my understanding of what it means to experience a disability. I learn something new every day that I serve families, and the most significant piece of information that I’ve realized is that disabilities are not weaknesses, but rather remarkable attributes. I honestly feel that the word “disability” has been socially constructed over time as a result of circumstances and environment. People with disabilities still can function and communicate - they are as able as people without disabilities in a lot of ways. 

Working with people with disabilities has also taught me a lot about how to learn and adapt to the world in new, creative, and simple ways. In fact, one of my big takeaways from this summer has to do with universal design. If we design things for people with disabilities first, everyone might benefit from what we create. We shouldn’t only think about creating things for “normal” people and then try to adapt our products for people with different needs. If we start by helping the people who present differences first, we could end up helping everyone. Every single person, regardless of ability or race or sex or socioeconomic status, brings something to the table. We can all change the world in our own unique ways. 

Also, advocacy never ends. Lobbying and advocacy will always be an ongoing effort in the field of disability and special education. It is up to us to always educate and inform those who represent us on the issues that impact the disability community. Overall, working with PEAK has made me think creatively about new approaches to inclusivity and advocacy. Our greatest growth comes from those that are the most different from us. I hope to continue to evolve my understanding of disabilities as I continue to assist families in navigating Colorado’s education system and work with the PEAK communications team this fall. 

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