Monica’s journey at AbilityFirst first began when she met an AbilityFirst East Los Angeles Center administrative assistant who encouraged her to volunteer. Monica was inspired to be a voice and ally for families in the predominantly Spanish-speaking community and it was then she realized there was a need for community building and partnerships. Not long after she volunteered, the Center Director position opened, and she didn’t hesitate to apply- that was 27 years ago!
For Monica it’s personal, not only is she the Director of the East LA Center, but this is also her community, and her children were raised to be inclusive, community-minded and spent their summers volunteering for AbilityFirst. As a result, one of her son’s is now a police officer, and believes his time spent volunteering in the summers helped him understand the importance of serving people of all abilities. He now advocates and educates others on how to interact with kindness, patience and respect when interacting with people with disabilities.
One story that Monica remembers fondly is her time with Jose. When he first joined the AbilityFirst ELA Center he was 6 years old and participated in the afterschool program. He was timid and shy at the time and didn’t use words to communicate. But as Jose continued to attend the program and participate in various activities, he built more confidence and began to socialize and make friends. He began to develop his communication skills and learned how to self-advocate. Today, Jose is gearing up for his first year of college!
When asked what inspires Monica the most, she shares, “at the end of the day, I feel very satisfied when my staff or I can positively impact an individual and their family, even if it is something small. I also feel strongly in encouraging families and the community at large to realize just how much is possible for individuals with special needs.”
Each year, the AbilityFirst East Los Angeles Center raises critical funds for their programs through different activities, but the Pozole Dinner is the biggest anticipated event. Enjoying this flavor packed soup has become a tradition in the community—participants and their families and the center neighbors come to connect, share stories, and enjoy this family heirloom recipe that has traveled from Mexico and has been passed on through generations. Monica prepares the recipe with fresh, carefully selected ingredients…and love!
To learn more about programs at the East Los Angeles center including ExploreAbility, an adult community-integrated program, please visit abilityfirst.org/programs or contact Monica directly at firstname.lastname@example.org