On June 6th, for the second consecutive year, the Maryland Special Olympics hosted an event entitled Brave in the Attempt at Towson University. This captivating evening featured 11 individuals with disabilities who used their life experiences to inspire everyone present to be brave in their attempt at life.
Fittingly for Penn-Mar — whose mission is to transform life into living — the invited speakers included two individuals supported by the organization who were asked to amplify their voices and make a difference by sharing their personal stories of transformation.
Speaker Joe Ginter from Penn-Mar’s Day Program is 21 years old with a pervasive developmental disorder. A victim of bullying in high school, he credits the experience with helping him to transform his life. “To me transformation is turning over a new leaf; turning something upsetting you into something positive and turning bad choices into good ones,” he explained.
To help him cope with the bullying, he joined karate which bolstered his self-esteem and taught him that everyone has the right to make their own choices, positive or negative, “I could have failed but I made the choice to work hard. My last semester at high school, I ended up with a 3.8 GPA,” he said. ”Don’t be afraid to make a bad choice because you can learn from them. You have to be brave. Find supporters to help you and always push yourself no matter how hard it gets because you might not get another chance.”
Mark Rivera-Junkins, Penn-Mar’s Community Learning Coordinator, was in the audience that night with the participants’ family, friends, supporters and special guests including Yumi Hogan, Maryland’s First Lady; Col. William Palozzi, Secretary of State Police; and Josh Woodrum, a player with the Baltimore Ravens.
He described Joe’s message as very informational, one that clearly “shaped” his experience. Joe pointed out to the guests that for every four people sitting at a table, statistically one of them would ultimately be bullied for their appearance, clothing choices, remarks or quirks. He then asked the audience to imagine what that would be like for someone with a disability where the “differences” might be more readily noticeable.
Bobby Prado, an artist and Penn-Mar Day Program participant who lives in Freeland, MD, was more emotional in his delivery. “To be an artist you have to be brave,” he said. “To me being brave means being fearless, not afraid, like a warrior. To become brave, I had to transform by making choices; some of them were negative but it’s good to make mistakes sometime because you can move on and learn from them.”
Bobby is well-known in the Penn-Mar community for his meticulous drawings of Super Heroes. “When I draw Super Heroes it makes me feel smart and strong which helps me express my voice,” he explained. “Through my artwork I connect with other people and make friends. You can be brave, too. By standing together united, facing challenges with others.” He encouraged his peers to “be strong, make your voices heard and always think about your goals.”
“For someone on the autistic spectrum, like Bobby, social interactions can be difficult,” said Rivera-Junkins. “Bobby uses Super Heroes to facilitate conversations with people, to keep people engaged. It is his unique way of connecting with people.”
Kayla Brown, the Direct Support Professional who suggested that Bobby and Joe take on this challenge and helped them prep for their presentations, described the experience as “a life changing event” for both men. Many, if not all, who heard their heartfelt stories undoubtedly were left feeling the same way.