Sally Mickel & grand-daughter, Amber,
experience many aspects of Abilities United.
Like many of the employees at Abilities United, Human Resources Director Sally Mickel came to Abilities United for one purpose but found herself engaged with the organization at a whole different and unexpected level.

“I’d been working as a human resources professional at a software company, but I knew that I wanted to do something different,” says Sally. “I knew about Abilities United, and I had relatives who had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. There was some sort of inner calling, and I decided that this was the place I really wanted to work.”

Once Sally started working at Abilities United she realized that the services could benefit her granddaughter Amber.  Now a beautiful 18-year old girl, Amber contracted pneumococcal spinal meningitis at the age of three months, which left her profoundly deaf, with a brain injury and a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. The doctors said Amber would be dependent upon a feeding tube, confined to a wheelchair, and had little to no chance of ever regaining independent movement of her body. What the doctors did not understand was the determination of her, her family, and Abilities United to prove them wrong.

“Our first experience with Abilities United services was when Amber was eight years old and a respite worker came to visit Amber at home. That moment the respite worker walked in, there was just an immediate connection,” says Sally, who is moved at the memory. “They communicated by sign language, and then embraced. It was very special. After all these years, she is like our family member and Amber is a family member to her.” The respite service was invaluable, enabling the family to spend time with Amber’s sister, or to simply have a break of a few hours knowing that Amber was in good hands.

Like so many clients, Amber also found the warm-water pool at Abilities United Betty Wright Swim Center to be incredibly helpful as she worked to develop her ability to walk. “Each time I recall her first visit to the pool, I am overwhelmed with happiness,” says Sally. “I remember walking over to the pool to watch. As my son helped Amber down the ramp into the water, I looked away for just a moment when my son yelled, ‘Mom, look at Amber – she’s walking!’ My heart skipped a beat and my eyes welled up with tears of joy. Amber had just taken her first independent steps! As she took off through the water running, she looked over her shoulder at her dad and sister and began to laugh – as if to say, ‘Look at me, I can run!’”

Today Amber is in the Abilities United After School Socialization program where. “She engages everyone; the staff and the participants,” says Sally with pride. “She laughs and high fives all her classmates and teachers. She owns the place.”

Amber continues to grow socially and intellectually. She is happy and healthy and striving to achieve greater independence. “Her social skills, self awareness, and sense of humor have just blossomed,” says Sally. “We attribute that largely to her interactions with everyone at Abilities United. Amber is a happy soul, and she has a joy of life that is contagious.  I think she changes people’s lives and their perception of people with disabilities. I know for a fact that she has certainly changed my life and the lives of her large extended family – all for the better!”

Based on a 2012 interview with Sally Mickel.  Written by Bob Thomas and edited by Sally Mickel and Wendy Kuehnl.