2019 is the year of: DO-Ability

What does a Renaissance man, a conversationalist, and an athlete have in common? They are all participants at Gateway to Learning, and they are lighting up the world with their gifts and their souls. “DO-Ability” is demonstrated through these three individuals who represent every Gateway to Learning participant.

Meet Derrick, Wioleta, and Elizabeth who were interviewed for this story. Each one is actively involved in and outside of Gateway to Learning.

Derrick at Work.png

We begin with Derrick, the Renaissance man. He slips on a sports jacket for his interview, the mark of man with self-dignity and a respect for our conversation. We talk about his command of the dishwashing process for which he assumes all tasks related to it. He is exacting in his descriptions and notes the importance of the requirements for each task. The conversation turns to his life outside of Gateway to Learning, and that is where Derrick plays his life and his gifts full out. He is an art enthusiast. His first art exhibition called, “Retrospective” was in 2010. For the past three years his drawings have been on exhibition at the Thompson Center in celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act. You can spot him at the art galleries in Bucktown, West Town, Pilsen, and River North. He recites poetry and sings in his church choir. For the past 17 years, he has volunteered at the Caris Counseling Services Center performing administrative tasks. There is a humble confidence when Derrick speaks about his work and his accomplishments. When asked to give advice on forging ahead in life, his response is: “Be confident and do the best you can with your talents.”

Wioletta visiting Lincoln Square.png

Wioleta, a conversationalist by nature and skill, is a delight to talk with. She speaks fluent Polish and English and knows how to spin a story in a way that will truly capture your interest. She’s tremendously expressive when she talks about things she loves to do and things that don’t necessarily sit right with her. She is a woman of strong opinions and welcomes the opportunity to share them. She assists in the cookie baking process which she likes because it keeps her active. When asked what her favorite activity is at Gateway to Learning, her eyes lit up and without hesitation, she blurted: “The Bakery and Café, because I get to greet the customers!” She exclaimed how she likes to ask them about the cookies they want to buy. Wioleta makes the Café and Bakery a happy place to be. Customers get a double sweetness – cookies and a charming young woman who knows how to make you feel right at home. You might even be lucky to hear one of her stories.

Elizabeth at our local Fire Station.png

Elizabeth moves with ease and confidence. Comfortable in her own skin, she presents herself as if she can do just about anything, and what she can do is next to pretty remarkable. At Gateway to Learning, she’s involved in boxing candy and making cheese for the Holiday Bazaar. She sells cookies in the Café and makes salads and sandwiches for her fellow classmates’ lunch. In her downtime at home, she’s drawing pictures and helping out with household chores. There was a pause in the interview and out of blue, Elizabeth nonchalantly revealed that what she really liked doing best was sports. “I play basketball, and I love bike riding and snow shoeing.” She then pulled out a silver medal that she wears around her neck. In a “matter of fact” way, she shared how she won the medal for floor hockey after putting one into the net at this year’s Special Olympics. Though taking an unassuming posture with this award, she smiled in a way that flashed a sense of pride and self-satisfaction in her achievement. DO-Ability feels good!

What is a DO-Ability?

 At Gateway to Learning, we focus on the gifts and talents of each and every person.  Rather than talking about how our disability defines us, we choose to focus on our abilities, and what we CAN do. Participants with DO-Abilities inspire the world by what they can do and do well.  Here, we support their abilities and strengths while providing participants with learning opportunities to minimize their challenges and barriers to  be actively included at home, at work, and in the community.


John Ratzenberger