Sycamore woman navigates life with a little help

SYCAMORE – Allison Stahl is always pushing herself to be more independent. 

Stahl, a 31-year-old Sycamore resident, uses a wheelchair to get around because of her cerebral palsy, but she’s always striving to do more for herself. She works 12 to 16 hours a week at Walmart in DeKalb stocking shelves, and is a choreographer who teaches wheelchair ballet at Dance Dimensions in DeKalb. 

“It’s a way to have people understand me,” she said of dance. “It’s a way for me to be free.”

Her caregivers have helped her participate in many activities throughout her life. She graduated from Sycamore High School in 2001 and remains active at Sycamore-based Opportunity House.

Another group that helped her become more independent is her lifelong support network of about 11 friends and family, also known as a microboard. 

A microboard is a nonprofit association created to serve one person, according to the Illinois Association of Microboards and Cooperatives. The members of Stahl’s microboard, called Allison’s Awesome Blossom, help her through decision-making, although she ultimately decides her path. The microboard addresses the planning and support needs of a vulnerable person by empowering them, said Pam Kitterman, Stahl’s mother. 

Aside from helping her obtain small items such as an iPhone 5, Stahl’s microboard has helped her hunt for an apartment, while her caregiver helped her with the paperwork. Although one place she found turned out to be unsuitable because it was too small, the search process is one example of how Stahl managed to achieve self-advocacy through a support network. 

“The microboard has really changed my life,” she said. 

Stahl shared her experiences using a microboard and promoted self-advocacy among people with disabilities Nov. 4 at the Speak Up and Speak Out Summit in Springfield. She said the conference, hosted by the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities, allowed her to “meet with neat people,” including Gov. Pat Quinn. 

Stahl was chosen to speak on a panel by a member of the Illinois Association of Microboards and Cooperatives. Before an audience of more than 50 people, Stahl spoke about self-advocacy. Kitterman, said the summit was a wonderful chance for her daughter to network with people and help others. 

“I was [pleasantly] surprised at how powerfully and eloquently she spoke at the panel,” Kitterman said. 

The conference was such a good experience for Stahl, she plans to continue to attend in years to come. 

Stahl said she’s still looking for an apartment. In the meantime, she continues to live with her parents, but she said she wants to be able to live independently without living too far from her family.