Seven years ago, Integrate for Good was a spark inside of me. It didn't have a name yet. It was an idea. I would fall asleep thinking about it. It was there in the morning when I woke up. It was like a screensaver. As soon as my other work took a break, there it was. Ready and waiting.
It was born out of a deep-seated passion to address a pressing issue — the uncertain future faced by countless students with disabilities after high school graduation. Their journey seemed marked by question marks, while siblings, classmates and neighbors embarked on new chapters filled with excitement and promise on college campuses and in the workforce.
On New Year's Day, 2019, Integrate for Good officially came to life. I clicked "send" on the incorporation documents with a mix of excitement, and even more fear. What if no one cared?
I knew we needed a website to get started. My attempt at creating one resembled a failed kindergarten tech project! However, a chance encounter with Nick Welsh, a brilliant 19-year-old living with autism and muscular dystrophy, changed everything.
Nick started by creating our first impact video. It was stunning and brought me to tears. When I shared that I hired someone with autism to tell our story, I was met with questions like, "Aren't you afraid it will lack emotion?" All I had to do was share the link. Nick's work blew away the prejudice and spoke for itself.
When I shared my website struggle with him, Nick simply replied, "I can build a website."
And build he did! Nick's talents extended far beyond what I could have imagined. He became the force behind our digital portfolios, the architect of our inclusive website, and the creator of our dynamic event platforms. But it wasn't just about his skills; it was about showcasing the brilliance that emerges not in spite of disability, but because of it.
Five years ago, I shared a dream with Nick — the dream that one day we could grow Integrate for Good enough to hire him full-time with benefits. A seemingly impossible goal for a startup nonprofit, but we took the leap, worked hard, and refused to quit, even when the pandemic made it tempting.
As we welcome 2024, I'm thrilled to announce that Nick will become our full-time Director of Technology, with benefits! A massive grant or a corporate sponsor didn't fuel this achievement. It happened because of individuals like you who supported us with your donations.
Nick's journey with us began as a simple collaboration, but it soon evolved into something profound, a testament to the untapped potential within all of us.
Now, as we look ahead, we have even bigger plans for 2024. We want to add two more positions to expand our reach. When people with diverse abilities work, we save government benefit dollars and put money back into our economy. People who are employed are healthier and our economy is stronger when we don't leave anyone on the sidelines.
Your support has been the heartbeat of our journey, and we invite you to continue standing with us.
Together, we can turn those question marks into exclamation points for young people with disabilities!