More than a year ago, the Isla Vista Community Services District partnered with Momentum WORK Inc., a local nonprofit working to provide employment and vocational opportunities to individuals with disabilities, to take on a community engagement intern and accessibility advocate.
The result of the collaboration was the hiring of Sophia Lee-Park, facilitated by Jake Lowry, Momentum’s individual employment services coordinator.
Since then, Ms. Lee-Park and Sydney Casler, the district’s community engagement director, have worked to ensure Isla Vista and surrounding communities have access to resources for people with disabilities to thrive and participate in community affairs.
As someone with first-hand experiences of living with disabilities, Ms. Lee-Park said she is highly motivated to ensure that others with disabilities are aware of their potential to be valuable contributing members of society and are given leadership opportunities.
In furtherance of this goal, she compiled a comprehensive list of community resources for disabled residents and their families on the Isla Vista district’s website. Resources include transportation services, life skills or independent living support, community wellness, adaptive recreation, housing services and emergency preparedness direction.
“One of the most rewarding parts of my position is that I get to reassure disabled residents of all ages that they are valuable and knowledgeable contributors in their community. I love that I can use their knowledge to ensure tangible progress in real-time,” said Ms. Lee-Park.
She also said that through access to leadership opportunities, disabled community members can help local governments ensure that their concerns are continuously included in the conversation. It is Ms. Lee-Park’s hope that her position, and others like it, become a permanent feature of the IVCSD and that the idea spreads to communities throughout Santa Barbara County.
Through her internship, Ms. Lee Park said she has grown her understanding of the challenges and benefits of navigating California’s and Santa Barbara’s community programs, and she hopes to help residents living with disabilities and other marginalized groups feel empowered.
“I commend the IVSCD for being municipal leaders in our County in providing valuable and necessary information for its residents with disabilities and their families,” said Mr. Lowry. “It is critical for the disability community to have easily accessible resource guides at their disposal to participate in California’s many life-changing social programs and gain support to enter the workforce or receive care in the comfort of their own homes. As Sophia has demonstrated, these programs are truly an investment in the future and have a tremendously positive impact on the community at large.”
“Working alongside Sophia, I have immense gratitude for the efforts she puts forth to ensure people are educated and have a deeper understanding of dignity-infused community engagement,” said Mr. Casler. “I will continue to advocate for other municipalities to take inspiration from the importance of this work. I’m excited to see all that Sophia will continue to accomplish.”