We had the good fortune of connecting with Amanda Steele and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Amanda, any advice for those thinking about whether to keep going or to give up?
When the going gets tough…what do you do? We have all gotten stuck on thoughts of giving up on something. Likely we all have given up on things, I know the saxophone and scrapbooking were not for me. However, there are things that passed me by and left me wondering if I was missing out. For example, I had my son when I was 17 after going through high school not receiving the support I needed. I missed out on a lot of things when I gave up on finishing high school; prom, graduation, friends. But I did not give up then. I got my GED before my son was born, I moved forward with where I was, I learned as I went. When my mother passed away, I broke, but I came back. I mourned her and still mourn her, losing her almost 18 years ago was life changing. I did not give up then. When my son was diagnosed with autism, the doctor was in shock that I did not react with fear. I knew well before the diagnosis. I accepted his diagnosis before realizing the ups and downs and many fears I sit with this day. I was still a child myself, especially developmentally. I wasn’t accurately diagnosed myself until June 2021. I did not give up then.
Instead of giving up we keep growing. There have been years in which we blossomed and bloomed and there were years when the wilts ran deep. I don’t know how we survived but we did, and we came back after years of weathered and torn vines; stronger, wiser, and ready to tackle what was next. Running with blinders since the village around us was not always seen. My own fears, anxieties, and insecurities led us into a tiny bubble. One day that bubble popped, I watched our lives transform into what brought me out with a career where I work with the population I relate to. We found a community and a village of friends, allies, and community partners that supported us.
I kept going when I was younger because I once thought I had no other choice. I keep going today knowing and understanding the depth of what lies ahead, because I am motivated and inspired to show the world what we can do together; when people are seen for their abilities, not their disabilities. Humans progress when we feel valued, loved, supported, challenged, and heard. I hear my friends, my clients, and the families of those supporting the disability community. We have a lot of work as a community to do in regards to equitable opportunities. It takes a community working together to thrive together. I will keep going because it is my destiny that I do so.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
How often do you reflect on what you have done, where you have been, how far you have come? I was recently given a suggestion by my therapist to create my own personal resume. Not about my past and present work history and present level skills, but one focused on myself . I was being asked to look backwards…those who know me know I am all about the future and working with others to create the societal change we seek. A future where all persons with disabilities will have access to the resources, programs, and services needed to reach their full potential. I co-founded an emerging non-profit on this vision. We are currently waiting on our application for nonprofit status to be approved. The journey that led me to co-founding an organization is an impactful one, completely unique to me.
Having a child with needs far greater than I was able to understand, was a motivation for me to connect to the disability world. Many moons ago back in 2009… I met a family that impacted the trajectory of my future. I was offered an opportunity that required me to quit my job at the Comfort Inn and move my family to a new location, new school, my husband transferred job locations; everything changed. While there I started college with the hopes of becoming a special education teacher, learning hands on with a family that had three children with differing needs, learning styles, academic levels and skills. I made the decision to change degree programs to study speech therapy after my experience helping home-school while nannying for that family. My own ADHD did better one on one and in shorter increments of time. My desire to work with this community grew along with my desire to learn more.
I was a habilitation provider working with individuals of differing ages and intellectual and developmental needs, as I attended NAU online. I became a certified Speech Language Pathology Assistant (SLPA) after earning my Bachelors in Speech and Hearing Sciences and completing my clinical hours. I have been a private contracted SLPA since 2015 with a caseload ranging from pre-teens into adulthood.
During this time I grew as an advocate and a community leader, doing so through my own leadership qualities and desires to connect the community. My son and I worked to develop a social group that started with five families. After 5 years our group has 350 members, and over 70 families that have joined us more than once. My son became active in the Special Olympics which led to him experiencing and playing over a dozen sports and him traveling across the country more than once, coming home an Olympic medalist and a more independent young adult. My son also had experiences that led us to court rooms, felony charges against those who perpetrated crimes against him, and many nights of worry and fear of the unknown.
Since 2018, I have participated in several programs to develop my leadership and advocacy skills including the AZ Partners In Leadership program, and Leading for Change’s candidate training course and Fellowship program. . While there my desire to advocate became stronger as my knowledge of how to advocate grew and I found reasons to advocate in every direction that I looked. The pandemic didn’t slow me down. During that time, I took a tiny but mighty non-profit that serves to create inclusive communities for individuals with I/DD through accessible leadership, quality programming, and positive, community-based activities. I built over 25 sustainable programs for its members to attend, keeping them engaged and active online through 2020 and into 2021. In 2021 I realized I was on a path of burn out, I was not being offered the opportunity to expand my knowledge. I made the decision to find what was next for me, while envisioning creating a future where individuals with disabilities had access, equity, and opportunities allowing them to reach their full potential. In 2021 I completed a candidacy training course with Leading For Change — I’ve decided elected office is something I will likely consider in the future when the time is right. In Fall 2021, I started Leading For Change’s Fellowship program where I am currently working on my personal professional leadership plan with mentors and coaches all while learning the skills to better lead and organize the community I serve with honor and purpose.
In Spring 2021, I connected with a group of women who have a shared experience advocating for our children with disabilities. We started a movement – #FundAzSPED – to advocate for an increase in state funding for special education. By Fall 2021 we had created a new organization called EPIC Disability Advocacy with its mission to educate, advocate, and create connections to empower the disability community. We have submitted our application to become a nonprofit organization so be on the lookout for what’s to come.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Arizona has some incredible things to offer so I would be sure to focus on seeing options that can be found throughout this beautiful state. For a friendly family style get together – my son would have to show off his favorite spot to grab a pizza at ZzeeksPizza. The owners Jody and Mark Pectol are the kindest people you will ever meet, and the pizza and bread bites are lit (at least this is what my teenage nieces say). I am a fan of their cauliflower crust pizza, it’s a healthier spin with a delicious crunchy taste.
My favorite lunch spot to meet a friend is at the Perfect Pear, nestled in Chandler near the borders of Tempe and Phoenix. This location is great for a cozy conversation with a salad and glass of wine. We could then drive up South Mountain, do some exploring and share the scenery and desert life around us.
I believe we all thrive when we surround ourselves with positive and healing energy that supports our overall well being. I would have to make a stop in Tempe at Everything Just Rocks, from the vibes, crystals, and opportunities to have your fortune read, it’s a day you will feel to your inner core how strong the energy and the feelings of euphoria will be upon leaving that store. It is a day I look forward to and it is a place I miss when it has been too long. From classes, to healing crystals they have something for everyone.
Being in Tempe we would go through a little nostalgia and traditions when we lived in Tempe together. If in the mood for Mexican food we would stop at Rosita’s on University and Mill, a weekly favorite of my mother’s. To bring back a little history, we would go to Mill Ave and reminisce about the changes and growth and share some of our favorite memories, while boating or biking together around Tempe Town Lake.
We would spend a day in Downtown Phoenix, checking out all that Downtown has to offer and spending several hours mesmerized by the displays at the Phoenix Art Museum.
For an evening with music, delicious food and dancing we would head down to The Perch in Chandler, listening to the band from the rooftop, while enjoying a bite to eat and a round of drinks.
No trip to AZ is complete without some sightseeing outside of the greater Phoenix area.
Making a pit stop in Ahwatukee at The Nosh for some freshly baked bagels and housemade cream cheese. We would travel to Sedona and spend the day at Oak Creek Canyon basking in the healing waters and leaving with the energy gifted to us during our time there.
Choosing a nearby Airbnb with views for days, we would drink wine by the fire and enjoy our time and the brilliant sky above, in one of the most breathtaking cities Az has to offer. The following day downtown Sedona shops would encompass our day with the many different treasures and healing stones that can be found in this sacred city.
Picking up delicious take out from Sweet Magnolia’s on our way back to Chandler for some soul food that has tastes that will leave you smiling and happy.
As we are nearing our week together I would be sure to spend a morning watching a sunrise and enjoying the beauty and wildlife at the Salt River. The horses and view are worth the early morning alarm clock. We would stop at the Carniceria El Herradero for some carne asada. We would invite family and friends over to grill and gather and enjoy the last of our time together. We would plan our next 7 day gathering with the sole purpose of going to all new locations the following visit.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
To say that a village has been by my side is an understatement. I have been blessed with friends, mentors, and community leaders that have entrusted me with their knowledge. I have been given support when I needed it the most, especially since I popped my bubble of isolation a decade ago. One person has been there through thick and thin, through it all. She has grown by my side and has supported me from the moment I was brought home from the hospital. Some people never have a bond as strong as I do with my sister, Lisa.
From morning coffee, to losing over 200 pounds together, to watching sunrises together in some lovely spots, to lifting each other up and complementing our weaknesses through the strength and support of the other. I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am without Lisa by my side.
Lisa is my best friend, she is also a co-founder of EPIC, alongside me and 4 other women that also deserve a shout out. Last year these women joined forces alongside me to create a vision and mission worthy of what each of us wish to see. Those who know me well, know I have been a visionary with ideas that many have called wild, others said could not be done.
EPIC Disability Advocacy was co-founded by 6 women, including myself, these 5 women who have placed themselves in this direction alongside me, see the value in the vision that we together can bring to the community. We are currently in the initial founding and development phase. I could not picture championing social change by empowering potential and igniting change without being alongside these powerhouse women that see what I see and will work just as hard as me to make it happen.
Amy Haley Michelle Thorne Amanda Steele Marianne Scott