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The Inclusive Power of Service

by Kate Enos

Jennifer Byerly, 47, of Rockport, Indiana weathered the trials and tribulations of life, but has made the most of her circumstances through her service with AmeriCorps. She has also become a champion for those with intellectual disabilities.

After surviving a devastating car accident in 2004, Byerly learned that she had sustained a traumatic brain injury. She now suffers from partial epilepsy, a minor learning disability, and can no longer drive. Rather than focusing on what she lost in the accident, Byerly is focusing on her abilities and giving back.

“I wanted to focus on my abilities, not my disability which led me to AmeriCorps,” said Byerly.

In 2009, Byerly became an AmeriCorps member with the Green River Area Development based in Owensboro, Kentucky where she assisted the Senior Connections program by preparing and delivering meals-on-wheels, providing respite care, locating programs for reduced or free prescription medications, educating seniors on changing Medicare benefits, and assisting clients with finding employment across Western Kentucky.

Byerly also helped the newly-established Veterans Administration Clinic in Owensboro launch their homeless outreach pantry which provides homeless veterans with necessities including tents, socks, gloves, and coats. She also joined the Medical Reserve Corps and became a volunteer with the American Red Cross.

“Through AmeriCorps and the Medical Reserve Corps, I became in tune with service leadership, allowing me to advocate on behalf of those with access and functional needs while also being able to give back – we all have a debt to repay, no matter our circumstance.”

Reaching the Disability Community

Through AmeriCorps, Byerly was able to identify key problems in reaching the disability community and innovative solutions to improve services and outreach in Indiana, leading her to apply for a grant on the issue .

“I saw isolation as a main issue that arises in disabilities circles – the key is to connect with one another to ensure our issues and voices are being heard.”

Byerly proposed three solutions: asking if individuals are registered to vote, promoting emergency preparedness and planning among people with disabilities, and providing opportunities to volunteer in the community.

Her proposal garnered the attention of state officials who awarded Byerly with a $50,000 grant to carry out her plan and fund her position as a Certified Recovery Specialist at the Rockport Indiana Engagement Center.

“Service has the power to include all and build your confidence. It empowers you to step out of your comfort zone and take on leadership roles. Because of AmeriCorps, I know what are my talents and skills in my new life.”

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