By Tessa Wilkerson
Hi! My name is Tessa Wilkerson and I am a student intern at Wendell Foster. I was born in Owensboro and I graduated from McLean County High School in 2015. I am a Social Work student at Western Kentucky University and I’m going to graduate in December. I have Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) Type 2 which is a form of Muscular Dystrophy (MD). I was diagnosed at the age of 18 months and I use a wheelchair to aid in my mobility. MD causes your muscles to be weaker and digress over time causing me to be unable to walk among other things. This is how I was introduced to Wendell Foster! I started receiving services when I was three years old. I had physical and occupational therapy, as well as aqua therapy in the pool. While these therapies were initially provided on site at Wendell Foster, my therapists then came to my grade school to provide services.
As a Social Work major my last two semesters consist of an internship and a seminar class. I was tasked with selecting a location that would accept me as their intern for 400 hours over the course of six months. Wendell Foster, being the amazing place it is, immediately came to my mind as the place I wanted to spend all those hours. I had my heart set on this location and I was overjoyed when they accepted me. Having experience with Wendell Foster, I knew that their environment, values, and mission were all things that I wanted to be associated with. I knew they would see me for who I am and not for a disabled girl in a wheelchair.
I have always known my whole life that my disability would never define who I am. This is why I decided to get my high school diploma and attend college. I understood what doors could be opened for me if I continued my education and that I would have more opportunities available to me with a college degree. With having a disability I’ve had people tell me “No” and “You can’t do that” my whole life, except for my parents. They have always allowed me to make independent decisions and take the lead on my life.
I knew it was going to be very difficult to move away for college since I require assistance for everyday needs. But, where there’s a will there’s a way! I have been able to recruit 10-12 helpers to support me 24/7 during the semester. These helpers are college students who assist me in getting where I need to go and making sure I have what I need. These responsibilities have required me to grow up quicker and mature faster than most because I was thrown into a management position at the same time that I was starting college. I had to learn how to manage lots of helpers, make sure their schedules match up with my schedule, and how to appropriately address difficult situations. But, without them I wouldn’t be able to be independent and have all the perks that go along with it.
I’ve only been here for a short time but I know that I am very excited for the days and months to come. I have already learned so much and I can’t wait to continue learning under this amazing staff. I feel right at home here at Wendell Foster.