Creating Community

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Ryan Ward and Emily Rowe.

By Christianna McCausland

The transition from high school to young adulthood is not always easy, but for people with cerebral palsy (CP), the move can be uniquely challenging, as Emily Rowe, 22, and Ryan Ward, 21, found out after graduating from Kennedy Krieger High School in 2020 and 2019 respectively.

“It’s tough to jump from Kennedy Krieger High School to the real world,” Ward says. “I would talk to Emily about this frustration—missing school, not being in a day program, trying to figure out my next step. But I was tired of talking about it and wanted to be about it.”

Understanding that they were likely not alone in their feelings, Rowe and Ward established the RELiving with CP Team in June 2020. A nonprofit organization that brings together teens and young adults with CP to share their experiences and offer supports and resources, RELiving hosts bimonthly roundtable discussions on a wide range of topics. One roundtable hosted a sergeant in the Prince George’s County Police Department, discussing interactions between law enforcement and communities of color and people with disabilities. Others have focused on person-centered planning, and achieving and maintaining good mental health. RELiving launched a podcast this past July, and it hosts social activities as well.

Mentorship is an important aspect of RELiving’s mission of helping young people with CP navigate the transition to adulthood, and Rowe and Ward plan to expand their programming to reach high school students. “We are very interested in partnering with Kennedy Krieger High School to provide mentoring and support to students who have CP,” Rowe says. “Having Kennedy Krieger alums among the RELiving team, we feel, is of benefit to transitioning students.”

Lindsay Turwy, principal of Kennedy Krieger High School, is not surprised that Rowe and Ward have embarked on this task. “They both were always strong advocates for themselves and their peers,” Turwy says, noting that the school is currently remodeling its store to improve its accessibility after Ward, who participated in the retail industry program, pointed out how difficult it was to access the register when using a wheelchair.

“Our environment at Kennedy Krieger High School is very focused on students and student supports so they can be as successful as possible,” she continues. Rowe, for example, was in the school’s hospitality industry program, which has helped her as a student of food and beverage management at Montgomery College. Still, Turwy acknowledges that leaving the supportive halls of the high school can be hard.

“Our students come from all over the state, so when they are in their local community, it probably is quite isolating,” she says. “To know there is a community of people to connect with and that there are opportunities out there is important.”

“We’re building a sense of community. Once you connect with your peers and get out there a little bit, there’s no stopping you.” – Ryan Ward

“That’s what we’re doing here,” Ward says. “We’re building a sense of community. Once you connect with your peers and get out there a little bit, there’s no stopping you. All you need to do is find your niche, what you’re most passionate about, and run with it.”

Visit the RELiving with CP Team's website to learn more about the organization.