It was just a few years ago that someone referred Erycka Lea Kosinski to Independent Living of the Genesee Region (ILGR). Previously, while trained as a Licensed Practical Nurse, and planning to go on to study sociology, Erycka had a traumatic event that lead to bouts of anxiety and depression, ultimately being diagnosed with Bi-polar Disorder (formerly called manic-depressive illness), and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Fearing that all her dreams had been extinguished at age 20, she was unable to continue working. Once her husband was, himself, unable to work due to an injury, even with her qualifying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), her family had financial difficulties and she could not afford traditional counseling when she needed it.
However, then she learned that almost all services of ILGR, (except van transportation for those outside certain qualifying programs), were provided at no cost to the individual. Erycka availed herself of a variety of the regular Independent Living services, plus others such as Anger Management Classes, and it turned her life around. The Agency even helped her husband to acquire health insurance. They have encouraged her efforts to make her German Shepherd-Chow mix, Akira Rose, an Americans with Disabilities Act federally-certified service animal for helping with her anxiety.
Erycka became one of ILGR’s most enthusiastic volunteers, working on the ILGR table at the Genesee County Fair; for the “Taste of Independence” food sampling extravaganza; and at other fundraising activities. A self-proclaimed good-will ambassador for IL, she carries cards and literature with her everywhere. All this involvement got her noticed, and she was invited to the ILGR Council, to help set direction and policy for the Agency.
Noticing how much the ILGR services have grown in recent years, Erycka has some ideas she would like to see become a reality: a structured program to help volunteers appreciate the uniqueness of IL’s consumer-first philosophy within social service agencies; to recruit more “feet on the ground” to dispel the notion some have that we are an authoritarian organization; more active outreach to the community to promote involvement with, and awareness of the considerable capabilities of, citizens with disabilities. She feels it’s particularly important to bring this message to the schools, to reach the next generation of leaders, and, through them, to their parents. (“Say, Dad, doesn’t that sign mean that only people with disabilities can park here?”)
People need to expand their concept of Independent Living to understand that everybody has a right to gain independence; just as everyone can have their own IL story: consumers, volunteers, staff, and Council Members! As she describes it, “Anybody’s building blocks can be knocked down in their life – but they can be put back together, perhaps in a new, better way, if you have help with the ‘3 E’s: Education, Empowerment and Equality’”.
Lead on, Erycka!