Thursday, October 9, 2014

Big Brother OMOD Returns to El Paso

Good evening ardent followers of VSA Texas' blog! It's Eric, your friendly OMOD project coordinator and connoisseur of El Paso's finest tacos. I have another tale to tell you of the Sun City:

After launching our OMOD program in El Paso the last weekend of August, I observed the next four class meetings from the comfort of my home in Austin through the modern magic of FaceTime, a video calling application, courtesy of Apple, that enables Mac users to video call other Mac users – or users of iPads, iPhones, or iPods – through built-in FaceTime cameras and Wi-Fi connections. For me, this meant every Saturday morning I would cozy up to my MacBook Pro laptop at my dining room table with a cup of coffee and regrettable slices of leftover pizza, await the video call from our writing and speaking coach, Gerri, and then observe the three-hour class like the next episode of an action-packed miniseries. My face would appear on the screen of Gerri's MacBook Pro resting on a table in the corner of the Region 19 Education Service Center conference room, where the OMOD class was held.

Though I like to think my facial expressions were a tad less scornful and intimidating, I still imagine I must have appeared somewhat like 1984’s Big Brother: lurking quietly in the corner, taking fastidious notes. But overall, I found my FaceTime observation to be a wonderful experience of watching the participants morph and grow over the course of the six-week session and seeing how the trainers interpreted our curriculum and modified it to suit the new environment and the new group of participants. More importantly, FaceTime gave me the opportunity to be present, to note the specific problems and successes, and to give the trainers instant feedback both during and after each class.

I returned to El Paso with Caleb, my trusty travel attendant and also a passionate connoisseur of tacos, for the final class and showcase on Saturday, October 4th. We met our project partner, Rick, our trainers, Christine, Madeline, and Gerri, and our newly trained self-advocate speakers at the Transitions to the Future Conference for Parents at the Region 19 Head Start Center, where the showcase was held as one of the conference’s breakout sessions. The showcase room filled up quickly, and soon our speakers were presenting their stories to an audience of more than 60 people.

Our speakers shared a variety of stories on themes ranging from education, adventure, and friendship, to self-discovery, romance, and the importance of listening. Every story was well received and garnered a wave of applause from the audience.

Alina shares her story about how she dealt with an unwanted crush.

Paul talks about his experiences in Junior ROTC.

Jesus shares his story about skydiving.

After the showcase, I spoke with the mother of a young son with autism who told me how much the stories moved her and made her feel more confident about her son’s future. Hearing that really reinforced in me the importance of our project: writing and sharing stories about the common hopes, dreams, successes, and struggles of people with disabilities allows people without disabilities to see how alike we all are and also gives hope and strength to other people with disabilities and to family members of people with disabilities who may still be trying to find their way.

The next stop for our El Paso self-advocate speakers will be the 2014 “Our Lives” Disabilities Conference and Service Providers Expo, sponsored by the Volar Center for Independent Living, which will be held Thursday, October 30th, from 8am-5pm at the Camino Real Hotel (101 South El Paso Street, El Paso, TX 79901). Stay tuned for updates at

And last but not least, take a look at these incredible tacos from the Rainbow Fountain!

Caleb helps me arrange my tacos for proper consumption.

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