Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Final Chapter

Wow! I cannot believe the summer in DC has come to an end. There are so many areas of our lives that have been affected by this one summer, and now it is time to take these lessons back home with us. For the longest I knew I was not alone in being a person with a disability, but I felt lost on how to accept what it meant to me- Keri Gray. I felt I didn’t have an example or people to talk to who have struggled with the things I’ve struggled with. That left me to figure things out on my own, which I was doing in a slower pace than necessary and with many relapses.

Then the opportunity to work in DC happened. Over the course of the summer I interacted with people who have such passion in obtaining equal rights for all. They visibly showed their scars as marks of beauty, and that’s all I desired to do. I gained strength and motivation this summer to never hide. Further, a gained doorway into a community that will always support me in direction I have taken in life. AAPD and Capitol Hill connected me to two communities that built on me personally and professionally, and I am forever grateful.

So what’s next for me? This will be my senior year in my undergraduate study at Abilene Christian University. I am very excited to graduate in May 2012 with B.A.’s in Political Science and Communications with a minor in Public Service. I am as well preparing to take the LSAT and apply to law school in the DC and Texas area. I am excited for all our futures! Though it is the final chapter of this summer, it is the beginning of a connection with many many people. I am excited to say I feel a part of the disability community, and hope to give back as much as they have graciously given me!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

AAPD Conclusion!

The final week in Washington D.C. was lots of fun. During the final week, I got to go to Baltimore, Maryland. It was a lot of fun. There are some parts of Baltimore that are rough. However, if you are near the Baltimore Harbor then you will be fine. I took a lot of photos of the harbor. I also got to take the city bus for the first time. I grew up in a semi rural area so I have not been exposed to as many urban areas. I got to see the ships that are near the Chesapeake bay. I also got to give my capitol tour in the United States Capitol. I did really well because I was able to explain the history of the Capitol and our nation to the tourists. The tourists were impressed with the Capitol. I also got to see the Pentagon building from the outside for the very first time. I finally got around to being able to get a photo with Congressman Hoyer. I was very happy to be able to see him and have a photo taken with him in the Capitol. Then on Friday, I finished up my work interning for Congressman Hoyer's Office. Overall, I really enjoyed my time in Washington D.C.  It was a lot of fun and went by way too fast. I want to thank the AAPD and all of the people or companies that helped sponsor my internship.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Grand Old Time -- by Alec Frazier

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius Gives the Keynote Address at Justice for All
This past week was largely uneventful, except for one huge event! The AAPD's Justice for All 21st anniversary celebration of the ADA was a blast!

Minority Whip of the United States House of Representatives Steny Hoyer addresses Justice for All
One friend back home asked me what my day looked like, so I told her:
"Today I worked at the library, sorted through shelving, grabbed a hotdog, organized a list of links for a website, talked with Mom quick, rode across town in the subway, had group pictures taken, practiced intern graduation, attended a social mixer, listened to a number of influential speakers, and graduated."

Alec Frazier and His Mentor, Mat McCollough
There were too many important people at the event to count, and I made countless contacts for future business. Who knows? Maybe some will pay off...

Monday, August 1, 2011

AAPD Graduation !!

This was a very exciting week. American Association of People with Disabilities was hosting it's graduation ceremony on Tuesday. The celebration was really fun all day long. It first started off where I and the  rest of the crew got to get our photos taken at the U.S. Capitol. How sweeet can that get! Then the crew and I walked over to the Dirksen Senate Building where we all prepared ourselves for the big moment. On the way to the Dirksen Senate Building I got to go through the Hart Senate Building. I thought the Hart Senate Building was the nicest building of all the congressional buildings I had been in. It was really fancy and possesed a more upbeat feel to the environment of the building.

Once we arrived at the Audotorium in the Dirksen Senate Building, our director Michael Murray had us all pracitice walking up to the stage in order to make sure we maintained professionalism in the ceremony. Pop such as coke and pepsi was provided in the audotorium along with small appetizers. The best part of the cereomony was that I got to see Congressman Hoyer and Secretary Sebelius. I really loved the way how Secretary Sebelius had emphasized a long term goal of reducing the number of elderly people having to be in nursing homes and providing more home health care services in the future as the baby boom generation ages someday and makes long term care totally different than today's time period. I also enjoyed seeing my own Congressman that I intern for speak about how the signing of the American with Disabilities Act in 1990 was his greatest accomplishment that he helped put forward. Later that week on Thursday, I got to have a good lunch with my mentor Michael Winter at the United States Department of Transportation Building. Then on Saturday, I got to meet up with my Neighbor's niece from my home state of Ohio in which I had a good lunch with in Silver Springs, Maryland. Overall, my week was very good and very amusing.

Last Week Already?

AAPD orientation seemed like it was just yesterday. I woke up to the realization, that it’s the last week of my internship. Unbelievable, I should have anticipated it. It happens all the time when you do not want things to end. Truly, I enjoyed every moment of my internship experience. I met a lot of wonderful people. I do not want to leave my friendly co-workers but knowing it’s that time. I will definitely consider applying for a job with the USDA in the future, and hope USDA feels the same about me.

I want to thank AAPD for giving me this opportunity to explore and experience being in D.C. and this wonderful internship experience. I would not have done it without AAPD’s help. I had a great professional mentor who helped me with advice that will benefit me in the future. I also met up with few other people who were able to give me ideas and hope. There was an ADA celebration where there were speakers and the interns got an award from AAPD, which is a big honor to all of us. A lot of people came and I got to meet a few people. I wish I could get to know each person but it’s not always easy. I will miss the memories that I created here when I leave. I will miss the friends that I made through the internship. It was also nice to see my old friends who lived here in D.C.

Last week, I went to the White House for a self-guided tour and I had an amazing time. My internship offered my department an opportunity for the tour and it was wonderful. The White House is really big compared to what it seems from the outside. I absolutely loved looking at the pictures from the past of our previous presidents. I also met Obama’s dog! The dog is so adorable! I guess you have to be at the right place at the right time to spot lucky things.

I taught a sign language class at work to a small group of people. It was a fun experience, and I got to teach a little about deaf culture, a little about the difference between the sign languages, preferences of an individual, and of course some basic signs. The people who attended were highly motivated. We played a game, phone line- where there are two lines of people to pass a sentence on from the first person to the last person to see if the signs have been changed or are the same. I signed “I love working at USDA”, and one line of people signed “I love working at FE” while the other line of people signed “I love *hand shake*”. It was really funny. They asked me a couple of questions and it was an hour class. Some of people were disappointed that there won’t be another class but hopefully they will have the opportunity to take more classes in the future.

This past weekend, I ate at Ben Chili’s Bowl for the last time. I will miss that place dearly when I leave here. I know I am so into food for some reason. I finally tried Etete’s but it was not my favorite at all. I guess my taste buds do not go well with Ethopian restaurants or I will have to try different things on the menu. I also went to Georgetown Cupcakes for the last time.

Let’s make this week the best one of the summer!

Week 10

Sighs. I am very sad to see that I only have one week left here in D.C. I love the place and the people here as well as my friends and colleagues. But let's focus on the fun part last week.
On Monday (the 25th), I had an amazing tour of the Counterfeit section at Secret Service. The deaf employee over there has taught me a lot about genuine and counterfeit currency (both domestic and international). I got the chance to peek at the brand-new $100 currency bill, and it looks so awesome and high-tech! Can't say anything anymore, because it's a secret... shh. However, I got a chance to chat with my deaf colleague at Secret Service after the tour, and I was happy to hear that she will try to get in touch with a person from Cyber Crime division because of my interests in computer forensics.
On Tuesday (the 26th), it was an amazing time for me at the 21st Anniversary of the ADA event. After listening to awesome keynote speakers like Kathleen Sebelius (the Secretary of Human & Health Services), Senator Mike Enzi (R-WI), Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR), Tom Tauke, Executive Vice President, Public Affairs, Policy and Communications at Verizon, and Bruce Darling, National Organizer with ADAPT), I definitely did have moments of goosebumps because of their inspiring speeches. After the event, I got to meet several new people, which is a terrific opportunity!
On Wednesday (the 27th), I gave a presentation to Civil Rights & Civil Liberties (CRCL) interns that is working at Homeland Security about what my office do and to show them our shiny toys which is assisted technology for our employees & customers with disabilities.
On the very same day, I got stuck with two or three options, but am unable to make a difficult decision to choose one of them. Don't get it wrong: these options are good ones, but it can determine the outcome of my future. I believe this Wednesday (the 3rd) probably will be the big day that could change my life forever. Sometimes I do feel like I need to choose a path, but it takes a lot of time to think about.

Fighting Insecurities

People first! The other day I had an encounter with someone who means a lot in my life. It showed me how far I have come, and just how much further I had to go.

I was very casually dressed in an over-sized t-shirt and some shorts doing some work on my laptop. I felt very comfortable and I knew nothing was about to disturb me because it was one of those day when I was casually laying in the bed doing some work with my prosthesis off laying in a corner. Until all of sudden there was a knock on my door. Absentminded, thinking it was one of my roommates I called out “come in.” However, it was not one of my roommates…it was someone who means a lot to me in my life, and yet has not seen this side of me. He glances over and see’s my prosthetic limb, and then comes straight over and begins telling me about his day like any other time. Yet, as he talks my mind is spinning of insecure thoughts. What does he think? This isn’t normal? He’s curious? He wants to ask me about my leg? Is he going to think its weird? Yet through those questions I knew I was okay. After calming myself down I was good.

Then the moment happened. You know how when you’re sitting in a position for so long that your leg begins to numb up so bad that you have to get up and stretch it? Yeah..of course in one of my moments of insecurity that would happen causing me to have to get up and stretch inevitably exposing my one-legged figure even more. I tried to fight it, but I had to get up. It was at the moment that I immediately wanted to hide. Grab my covers shove them over me, and hide. Errrrrrrrrrrr!!! Yet, why should I hide! I know I am not alone in my feelings where I let insecurities take over the truth of the matter. The truth is I am a person like any other who should completely accept me. I have come a long way, but I can never forget the beauty of who I am. In that moment I forgot. You may have a relapse as well, but know we have to get back up again! I got back up, and got my composure together because I refused to continue to hide. It’s hard for me, but I don’t desire nor will I give up.

This past week was great going to the ADA 21st Anniversary Celebration. I saw so many strong and passionate people, and being around a crowd like that can only motivate you to keep pushing towards the next level. I’m so blessed, and I’m so thankful for my life and the opportunities that are before me. I could have died a long time ago, but I constantly have to remember God choose me to live. Why? I may not completely know the answer to that, but what I continue to do with my life will show my appreciation. People first!

Week 10

This past week I continued to learn a lot. With the current spending/debt crisis going on in Washington, I had the opportunity to speak to many average everyday Americans. Talking to these individuals showed me first hand how Washington politics are affecting the American people. Seeing the politics and the reactions of the American people brought me beck to when I was an undergrad. I remember when I was an undergrad in my upper division Political Science classes, talking about different theoretical prospectives and thinking (ya right this doesn’t really happen). Well I was wrong, these theories how ever old, still hold true to this day.

I also had the opportunity to go to another baseball game this past week. On Wednesday after work, the Congressman’s chief of staff treated the interns and staff to the Nationals game. The really cool part was that the Nationals were playing the Marlins. The Congressman I work for is from Florida. Additionally, it was dollar hot dog night so I was able to enjoy a few hotdogs at the baseball game. The game was also a great opportunity to get to know my coworkers outside the office setting. Although the Nationals ended up loosing, I still had a great time.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Second to last week in Washington, D.C.! It is hard to believe our time here is almost up. Although I am eager to begin my second year of law school, I am a bit melancholy at the thought of leaving my awesome internship in the Senate, as well as leaving the awesome new friends I have made here. I think most of my fellow AAPD interns are feeling similar emotions. I for one am already looking forward to returning next summer to intern here in our Nation’s capitol!

This past week was a great week. Once again! I feel as though I am beginning to sound like a broken record, but this has been the best summer of my adult life. Remember when you were a kid and on the first day of school you had to tell the class what you did on your summer vacation? Yeah, I remember that too. I hope I have that chance, because here is what I did:

I went to Washington, DC. And I met a bunch of really cool people, who just happened to have a disability. I made a bunch of new friends, many of whom taught me numerous lessons about adversity, struggle, and overcoming obstacles. And I met many people who are leaders and fighters in the disability movement. Some are ordinary people who have done extraordinary things. Some are elected officials who use their power and influence to make life better for those of us with disabilities. And others are privileged to have resources which they choose to utilize to benefit others, especially folks like us.

And I saw lots of monuments and museums and churches and stadiums. And the U.S. Open Golf Championship. There were concerts on the mall, free performances at the Kennedy, and some Shakespeare (thanks Leah!) thrown in for good measure. I was awed, amazed, humbled, excited, and moved. That was just sight-seeing. I was able to experience a week of seeing museums, and performances, and visiting the homes of our Founding Fathers with my daughter and my parents. What could be better?

Not better, I think, but on par with the above, was my placement with a committee in the Senate. I got up every day enthused about going to Congress and working hard to assist the good people who fight to make the lives of former servicemen and women better. As someone who served in the military during a non-combat period, I am humbled by those who have fought for our country. And I did my best to support the Committee staff as they work to secure the benefits and health care our former troops so richly deserve. Occasionally, I was able to identify an urgent need, and pass that along to staff that made things happen, and found a way to solve the issue. That was extremely rewarding.

And yes, I was able to network. I have a number of folks now who have assured me they will pick up the phone and call someone if I need an introduction or a reference. I have couple of interviews set up during our final week, to hopefully secure an internship here in DC next summer. I can’t imagine being anywhere else!

Thank you to everyone who made this summer unforgettable, most notably everyone connected with the AAPD Summer Internship Program- the interns, the staff, and the benefactors and sponsors. I could not have had this experience without your help and generous support!

That’s how I spent my summer vacation…

Rick Sommer

Week 9!


This past week, even though time is winding down, was really one of the busiest weeks here in Washington, D.C. Working on my web seminar that my boss will moderate in August, setting up new websites for the commission, and representing the ABA at a diversity job fair were among the things I did at work this week. I however want to talk about how thrilled I was to have the opportunity to attend the 21st anniversary of the ADA gala on Tuesday. There, I was able to network with many people who are somewhat power players in the field of disability law and policy. I was appreciative of the opportunity because I got a chance to talk to them, learn about them and where they come from as far as background experience. All that, I keep in mind, as I set my own path for the future, taking what I know, and what I learned, and utilizing that to the best of my advantage. When I leave here and go back to Rochester, New York, I know I will realize how beneficial networking really was and how lucky I was to be chosen as one of the interns for AAPD’s internship program here in D.C. I hope to keep in touch with everybody I have met this summer and build upon those relationships in the future.

The softball game this week was so close! We, the ABA, won 16-15. I unfortunately was not a part of this one due to the other team only having 5 players and my boss/coach putting me on the other team. I was not upset or slighted by this but delighted in the chance to see if I could beat my team. I went 4-4 with 5 RBIs but man, ABA came back in the bottom of the seventh inning with a walk-hit to win the game. Aw shucks, it was a fun experience nevertheless!

The other night, after a long long week of work that concluded with representing the ABA at an diversity career job fair, I got to let loose and go out on Friday night for a couple drinks with friends. I also got to go out the next night, to a rooftop pool party, that apartment building did overlook the Nationals baseball field so it was cool to watch the game from the rooftop with friends.

There’s nothing like having a balance of work and fun to give me the ultimate peace of mind. Stay tuned as this experience comes to a conclusion…

-Colton J