‘This chair can either be your wings, or it can be your anchor; you decide’

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My name is Kimberly Hernandez, and I am 29 years old. I currently live in Siler City. My family is originally from Guatemala and includes four brothers and two sisters. Two of my brothers live in Guatemala while the rest of us live in the U.S. We immigrated to the U.S. when I was 3 years old because we were in a dangerous situation; so, my family and I went in search of “the American Dream,” leaving many of our loved ones behind.

Being the only one in my family diagnosed with cerebral palsy was hard because I didn’t know exactly what it was, but I did know that I was not like my siblings and that it was something I had to adapt to. I thank God every day that my disability isn’t as severe as others. I can do most things independently. If I need help, I’ll ask. My biggest challenge growing up was learning that not many people know how to accept those with disabilities. This made life hard because I did not feel “equal” to them.

After I graduated from Jordan-Matthew High-School in 2012, like most teens, I felt stuck, but for different reasons. I could not work because our family did not have permanent residency, and it was hard to go out in my community because I did not have a ramp.

In 2013, everything started to change. My family started the application process for permanent residency. It was a long and stressful time for my family and me. After countless early mornings with our attorney, I was granted a work permit. This lifted a little bit of stress off my shoulders. I was able to apply for financial assistance. On May 1, 2017, I came across Vocational Rehabilitation and Independent Living, which changed my life — they assisted me with a portable ramp on Aug. 1, 2019!

Vocational Rehabilitation helps individuals with disabilities connect with businesses to build work skills and ultimately obtain a permanent job, so we continued to work together in hopes of getting me a job. Due to the pandemic, things were again put on pause. The shining light during that time was that on June 29, 2021, my family’s residency was approved. Like everyone who has been undocumented, I was in shock, and I cried.

On Sept. 8, 2021, with the help of Vocational Rehabilitation, I began an internship with Chatham Literacy. Working for Chatham Literacy has been a blessing because with them I have flourished as an individual. Before Chatham Literacy, I was in my shell, shy and not social. I am now more confident and outgoing.

I am now on my second internship with Chatham Literacy. I answer phone calls, greet everyone who comes into our office, assist learners with the digital learning app program, do data entry into excel and the program database, do follow-up calls with learners, interpret for our tutors to their students when in need, and I’m in charge of social media posts.

As part of my self-development, I applied in November 2021 and was accepted into UNC-Greensboro (UNC-G). I’m going to college! When my internship with Chatham Literacy is over, I hope to continue to use the knowledge and experience that I have gained and use it at UNC-G in the fall.

I thank my mother who has been my biggest supporter. She has never given up on her kids, no matter what life has thrown at her. She has always made it clear to me that regardless of my disability, I am equal to those around me.

There are several interpretations for the American Dream. To me, it’s determination, perseverance, discipline. This is my story. I hope I was able to inspire at least one person — if not many — who is undocumented. Regardless of documents, we all hope to reach the “American Dream,” and I fought for mine!

Kimberly Hernandez is Chatham Literacy’s bilingual receptionist assistant in Siler City.

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