Wednesday, January 7, 2015

VSA Texas Unsung Hero of the Week: Chris Strickling!

I want to tell you about another unsung hero of VSA Texas.  For over 14 years, Chris Strickling has graced us with her talent and generosity.  Starting in 2000, when she approached me to help make her vision of an inclusive community of people with diverse disabilities bringing their stories to life on the stage, Chris has been a selfless supporter of the celebration of the ordinary, and sometime extraordinary, lives of people with disabilities.
Myself, Chris and Terry
Beginning with a one-week Actual Lives Austin performance workshop –yes, a promised “one week” workshop – we launched what turned out to be a 12 year adventure, eventually involving Bob Tolaro, Allison Orr, Olivia O’Hare, Tanya Winters, Susie Angel, Juan Muñoz, Gene Rodgers, Dave Dauber, Carol Gilson, Frankie Ramont, Laura Griebel, Terri Stellar, Thor Armbruster and many others too numerous to mention.  And who could overlook Terry Galloway, the godmother of Actual Lives, uncensored (kind of), real-life, and just plain real. We went on to perform more than 48 original performances in Austin, Dallas, Georgetown, and Washington, DC, the latter at the invitation of the VSA International 2004 International Festival. As we explored the possibilities of Actual Lives, Chris helped bring this unique theater experience to young adults with disabilities.

Chris was also an integral part of starting our summer camp program for youths with disabilities. Our first summer camp workshop for participants ages 13 and up was an empowering and transformative experience for everyone, including the campers, volunteers, teaching artists, and VSA Texas staff.  Daniel, shown in the picture below, as well as many others, have participated in VSA Texas summer workshops ever since. 

Chris and Daniel!
And then, in 2013, Chris joined the ranks of the Opening Minds, Opening Doors: Promoting Self-Advocates as Speakers team.  She worked with OMOD Coordinator Eric Clow to develop the initial training curriculum based on the Actual Lives model, and then recorded teaching videos that will inform our instructors and participants throughout the life of the project.

Thank you Chris.  As we continue our work with people with disabilities from all “walks” of life, we will raise high the flag of inclusion, disability rights, real talk of human sexuality, personal dreams, hopes and possibilities. Your work continues. Happy retirement.  We look forward to visiting you at your humble casita in Ishmael, Mexico.

All our love, 

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