Alumnus of the Month – Molly Mayo

Molly first began working with people who are special as an eighth grade student in Louisville, KY. She cites this as a pivotal time since it was during the first efforts at “mainstreaming” peers with disabilities. Through the rest of her academic career, Molly worked with individuals with special needs in academic, residential, and recreational settings. While pursuing her teaching license, Molly spent five summers working at Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp as a counselor supervisor in the backpacking program, rafting program, adventure camp, and main camp. She also served as an art instructor and assistant director at the camp. Her professional career has included roles as a substitute educational assistant for Multnomah Education Service District (MESD) and three years teaching special education for Portland Public Schools (PPS).

In the summer of 2007, Molly started On-the-Move Community Integration, a nonprofit organization that helps adults with special needs access healthful, meaningful, and environmentally responsible recreation in urban and natural areas around Portland, OR.

How did you break into the field?
As a teenager, college student, and young adult, I gained experience working with individuals with special needs in academic, residential, and recreational settings. When I turned 30 I thought, “guess it is time to turn this into a career!” I got my teaching license at the GSE and also started working at Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp, eventually becoming an assistant director. I loved the celebratory feel of the camp experience so much that I was inspired to create On-the-Move, an organization to celebrate the gifts offered by people who are special! 

What has proven to be the most useful thing you learned while at the GSE?
The importance of using thoughtful language such as “person-first” terminology and describing support needs in a positively-phrased manner. Due to the history of discrimination and segregation of people with differences, and the appalling negative and prejudiced descriptors of disability, this change in language is important, necessary, and respectful.

What is the accomplishment in your career that you are most proud of?
Unquestionably, I am most proud of starting On-the-Move! Less than five years ago, it was just myself—now there are 11 staff and we provide support services to approximately 75 adults with special needs through our community inclusion activities, free reading classes, and Socializing Colorfully program.

The GSE strives to make an impact on our community through the work of our students, faculty, and alumni, what does the term “impact on the community” mean to you?
Impact on community means actively shaping our local culture to better embrace diversity. At On-the-Move, not only are we helping adults with special needs build skills and access community resources, we are helping the greater community build skills in inclusive practices. We are challenging views that people with special needs are “charity recipients” through demonstrating our participants’ strengths and abilities in accomplishing volunteer projects and community outreach and training. We are impacting and improving Portland!

How do you try to incorporate this concept into your daily work?
In two ways—first, people who are “different” have spent enough time separated from people without disabilities, and vice versa! That is why our program at On-the-Move is community-based, not site-based—we are out in the community every day. Second, rather than “inclusion” being our focus, we focus on “integration.” We promote a multidirectional exchange that will hopefully expand the definition of community, rather than simply “including” someone who is different.

Did you have a favorite course/professor/project while at the GSE?
The practicum in public school classrooms provided the broadest opportunities for learning and gaining experiences. I benefited from seeing different teaching styles and classroom models, and loved meeting the students.

What advice would you give students currently enrolled or recently graduated?
Even as a special educator, there were times when I felt nervous and unsure about how to include someone with a difference. I was scared I would fail in achieving inclusion. But each and every time, I stood by my beliefs and accepted the challenge of working with an unknown situation. I learned that the biggest challenges often bring the biggest benefits and most unexpected rewards for all. So my advice is to hold fast to the principles of inclusion, even if you have no idea what is going to happen. Take risks and accept that we have to endeavor together in figuring out exactly how to make our diverse society function better. Both the efforts and results of holding to the principles of inclusion are truly inspiring, beautiful, and bring out the best in each of us.

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