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Bella's Story: Finding a Fit in the WorkplaceAfter high school, Bella worried about finding a job and being accepted. Thanks to United Way and partner agency New Horizons, Bella found her groove.
LAWRENCEBURG, Ind. (July 25, 2021) — Bella Loschiavo, who is 22, describes her life as "a whirlwind of thunderstorms and sunshine."
She weighed just 2 lbs, 4 oz at birth. At age 2 she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP), which affects movement and muscle coordination. Not long after undergoing surgery in 2015, she lost her ability to walk. She now uses a power chair.
And yet, "I consider myself very, very blessed," she says, "because I am able to talk to you," which about one in four people with CP cannot do. "I feel like it's my job to use my voice to advocate for people who do not have that ability."
Bella, who lives in Lawrenceburg with her parents and three siblings, says that as she began to consider what she would do with her life, questions arose. She is as friendly and outgoing as anyone you'll meet, but she wondered how she would be perceived in a workplace. "I've always had those doubts — am I going to be accepted?"
People with disabilities face many barriers that can limit their full integration into a community. In 2020, only 17.9 percent of people with a disability were employed, federal data shows.
For assistance in helping her to live up to her potential, Bella connected with New Horizons Rehabilitation, a United Way of Greater Cincinnati partner agency. Both organizations place high value on equity, diversity and inclusion.
"Bella's career exploration journey began when she was a student at East Central High and was enrolled in New Horizons' Pre-Employment Transition Services program. Through internships, she learned she wasn't particularly suited for office work, and that she was happiest when she could interact with people.
After earning her high school diploma in May 2020, Bella chose New Horizons as her vocational rehabilitation provider. Its community employment staff took into account her interests, skills and talent as they helped her explore job options using videos and online tools (a necessity because of the pandemic).
One day, Ginger Chiacchira, senior employment consultant at New Horizons, saw a job opening at the Lawrenceburg Community Center. Duties included greeting people, giving tours, monitoring computer users and cleaning exercise areas.
"I knew she was capable of doing that type of work," Chiacchira says.
Bella remembers well the day last May when the community center director called with the offer for her first permanent job.
Are you kidding me? Bella thought to herself. "My jaw hit the floor. I didn't think it was real at first...I took it and ran with it."
There is value in work, of course. Earning a paycheck is an important step in being self-sufficient. But for Bella, it's more than that.
"I think what attracted me most (to the job) was the people," she says. "Because I'm a people person...Once I got into it, I knew it was going to change my life. I've always wondered, what is my purpose in life? What am I doing here?"
"We knew she needed to be out in public," says Jim Mobley, an employment consultant with New Horizons. "She changes people's lives. She changed mine. Just her outlook and the hope in her eyes."
Her first day on the job, Bella met the mayor of Lawrenceburg. She told him about her idea to have a Cerebral Palsy Day at the community center in March, which is Disability Awareness Month in Indiana.
He went one better, telling her the city would have a Cerebral Palsy Day, and that she could help plan it. Expect her to approach it in typical Bella fashion, with an attitude and eyes that radiate hope...Like sunshine.
United Way of Greater Cincinnati is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization [Tax ID: 31-0537502]. Contributions are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
Help Bring Joy to People Like BellaWhen you make a gift to United Way, you don't just help by lifting people out of poverty. You also put smiles on the faces of those who long for the simple things: a good education, a stable job, a roof over their head and more. It's a gift of hope. It's a gift of changed lives.
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