It began when Anna Dusbiber was 14 years old and had a mentor named Cathy. They both had disabilities, and while Dusbiber and Cathy mainly discussed their shared love of music when they got together on Saturdays, Cathy was also subtly instilling Dusbiber with something that would last a lifetime: hope. Hope that she could one day live independently the way Cathy did and lead a rich, full life not defined by her disabilities.
“She was the first person that I met that was physically disabled, yet lived in her own apartment and had her own life. It was pretty cool,” said Dusbiber, who has cerebral palsy.
Though Cathy passed away about a year after they met, her influence has left its mark.
“Before she died she made my mom promise to do whatever it took to make sure I would live on my own,” said Dusbiber, now 31. “Cathy knew that I had it. She planted the seeds and she saw something in me that my parents were unable to think of at that time.” Cerebral palsy affects the part of the brain that controls motor movements. With the help of a power wheelchair and the “awesome companionship” of her Paws with a Cause assistance dog Karson, Dusbiber is able to live independently in her Ann Arbor home with her husband.
The power of positivity
Her positive experience came full circle eight years ago when Dusbiber assumed the role of Youth Services Coordinator at the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living, a non-profi t organization that works to improve the quality of life for individuals with disabilities – the same center where she had received services and found her mentor.
Independent living – which Dusbiber says covers a broad scope, and could mean living completely on your own or simply being able to independently take the bus where you need to go – is a critical issue for individuals with disabilities and, especially for young people with disabilities and their parents.
“Somebody saw something in me that was a good thing and I think that’s what we do here at the center, we help families move through that and identify potential. We offer hope,” said Dusbiber, who works with young people ages 14-26. “I think I’m a positive example of what can be for them,” said Dusbiber, who graduated with honors from Eastern Michigan.
The Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living is located near State Street and Ellsworth. More than 50 percent of the center’s staff are individuals with disabilities. A mentorship program, referrals and a scholarship program are among the key offerings of Dusbiber’s department. “I help kids and families transition and come up with a plan to achieve their own level of independence,” she said.
The center is also a place where young people can meet peers who share similar disability experiences. “My mom was always looking for something for me to do. I never had a social outlet as a teenager and those are very important years,” she said. “I’m able to provide something that I didn’t have back then.” Some youth come from as far as Howell and Monroe to participate in the center’s unique events and activities, which they can help plan themselves as part of Dusbiber’s youth council. Dusbiber even met her husband at the center. “They say you meet people in the places that you frequent most and I spend a lot of time at work so that’s where we met,” she laughs.
Ultimately, Dusbiber says the most rewarding part of her job is helping to fulfill a true need in the community. Dana Emerson, director of operations at the center, said Dusbiber’s passion for her job is evident.“It might sound cliché but it’s really the truth with Anna,” Emerson said. “Her job is such a reflection of her and her beliefs and values and how people should be treated. She’s just a very positive person.”
For more information on the center, visit www.annarborcil.org or call (734) 971-0277.