Right now is the time of the entrepreneur, the time of the side hustle, the time of making money on your own terms and your own time. Mary Sue Tanis was one of those entreprenuers back in the 1970’s, but instead of making money she was focused on an idea much greater than herself. She successfully created a company called Youth Challenge that focuses on creating a safe space where disabled youth can interact with peers.
An Early Start, Pre-ADA
Youth Challenge was created in 1976 by Mary Sue Tanis in Colardo. While pursuing a degree in economics, Mary began swimming with vietnam vets and quickly changed her major to adaptive recreation. After this experience Mary wanted to provide a way for kids with diabilities to socialize with their peers. After moving to Fairview Park she gained the help of the Fairview Park Recreation Department to serve ten children with disabiltiies. Mary Sue Tanis was able to create a company centered around helping children with disabilities before the ADA was even put into law. She saw an opportunity to help and didn’t stop helping despite the difficulties that she faced.
1970’s to the 2000’s
Fast forward to the 2000’s and Chris Garr has taken over as CEO. He started out volunteering when he was in 6th grade and found purpose in helping disabled youth. Through his time volunteering he realized that it is not about the individual, but about coming together to be a team. Being a young volunteer at Youth Challenge allows kids to gain compassion and empathy towards others while also creating friendships that they otherwise would not have.
Volunteers are not the only thing that allows Youth Challenge to conduct daily operations. They currently have a full-time staff of 8. Most of these full-time staff members are composed of previous volunteers, but there are some individuals that participated in the program as disabled youth. One such individual is Steven Kyman who is their social worker.
What is Normal? How to Treat People with Disabilities
Despite all of the resources available to the public, disabilities are still viewed and approached differently today. It is hard to change the way we think about disability when it has been ingrained into our minds from an early age that they are different from everyone else. When asked for advice on how to treat someone with disabilities Chris Garr stated, “It is most important to treat someone as a peer.” Speak to each person you encounter as if they are someone close in age to you. This way you are not making any assumptions about their mental capabilities. Every single person on this planet has a way to communicate with others, it just might not be verbal communication. If the person you are communicating with is non-verbal don’t be afraid to touch them, give fist bumps, shake hands. They will let you know if they aren’t OK with you touching them. Also, give the person time to respond. It takes everybody different amounts of time to process language and give a reply. If you don’t understand what someone says, don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat themselves. If you don’t understand what they’re saying and respond with a laugh or a “yes” they will know that you didn’t take the time to try and understand them.
Partnering with Evarts Tremaine
Chris Garr started his relationship with Evarts Tremaine when he met Ken Kassler, a previous employee of Evarts Tremaine. Obtaining insurance coverage through Evarts Tremaine allows them to operate a non-profit in a responsible way. Auto insurance is extremely important for Youth Challenge since 95% of their participants use their vehicles. Although Evarts Tremaine plays just a small part, we are committed to improving the Cleveland area and enjoy working with Youth Challenge and other local businesses.