• From Long Island to Capitol Hill: Rebecca’s journey to national youth advocacy

    Rebecca Caron - Patchogue, NY

    It was late in the afternoon when I joined the call, and Rebecca was bright, cheerful, and ready to chat. I shared my expectations of the interview’s duration, to which she replied that she was giving a Tourette syndrome presentation later that night, and had another one the next day — in total, seven presentations that week! I was immediately struck with her passion for helping others and the depth of her self awareness, but what struck me most was her humility.

    Diagnosed with Tourette syndrome at 13, Rebecca remembers having tics as far back as Kindergarten, but didn’t know what was causing them. According to Rebecca's mom, Susan, it took a long time for Tourette syndrome to have a name. “Before that happened, we were in limbo. Now that her condition has a name, Rebecca has grabbed it by the horns and run with it!”

    Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary tics and vocalizations.

    For the past three years, Rebecca has served as a Youth Advocate for the Tourette Association of America, but her passion for volunteering took hold when her grandma introduced her to a local support group after her diagnosis. Through the support group, Rebecca has made many close friends and has traveled throughout New York to help build awareness of Tourette syndrome in an effort to combat bullying. She learned about the national organization’s Youth Advocate program, and after attending training in DC, along with other teens with Tourette syndrome from across the country, Rebecca has made it her mission to educate others.

    “I’m a normal kid who’s just had a little bump in the road but can show people that, no matter what, you can make the best out of a bad situation.” - Rebecca Caron

    Rebecca will be the recipient of the 2019 Yes I Can Award for School & Community Activities on Friday, February 1st, at the 2019 CEC Yes I Can Awards in Indianapolis. Nominated by Natalie Joseph-Pauline of the Tourette Association of America, Rebecca was also featured on Long Island’s News12 — 12 Making a Difference — for her impact on the local community.

    “It makes me so happy to see her trying to improve the lives of other people who are living with Tourette syndrome. She’s so nurturing, and it’s amazing as a mom to see!” - Susan Caron.

    Learn more about Tourette syndrome at

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  • When Overcoming Challenges is your SuperPower: How academics and a strong support system helped Danielle discover her potential

    Danielle Pruitt - Lexington, KY

    Not even five minutes into the interview, Danielle is cracking jokes and has me laughing out loud. It's readily apparent that this 14-year-old high school “fresh[wo]man” (her word) is wise beyond her years!

    Meet Danielle Pruitt, a charming, confident, and wicked smart teenager who has spinal muscular atrophy - a condition that keeps her confined to a pad on the floor most of her day, as she is unable to walk or sit independently. Danielle has to go to school each day with her mom, but quickly assures me that it's “not as bad as it sounds!”

    A lifelong love of academics

    On February 1 in Indianapolis, Danielle will be the recipient of the 2019 Yes I Can Award for Academics. Her love for learning was kindled at the early age of 5, when Danielle would attend preschool just two hours per day - and cry all the way home because she didn't want to leave! She continued this pattern every day until fifth grade, by which time she had progressed to attending school four days per week and 80% of the day. By middle school Danielle had progressed to full time attendance.

    According to her mom, Beth, Danielle experienced a transformation during middle school. Although she'd always had phenomenal, nurturing teachers, Danielle’s sixth grade teacher, Sandra Whitt, held her to very high standards and challenged her in a very unique way. Even though Ms. Whitt had extremely high expectations, Danielle met them. This fueled Danielle's personal mantra - to be treated like everyone else, to do school like everyone else, and to be held to the same expectations as everyone else. Throughout her school career, it's been those teachers who’ve held her accountable to such high standards that have made such a lasting impression on Danielle.

    In 8th grade, Danielle was fortunate to have another teacher who challenged her - her social studies teacher Michelle Parsons. According to Danielle, Ms. Parsons did not give praise unless you truly deserved it. It was for this very reason that Ms. Parsons’ nomination of Danielle for the 2019 Yes I Can Award for Academics was that much more meaningful.

    Throughout my conversation with Danielle, I had to remind myself that I am speaking with a 14-year-old. When asked what’s it like to be in the spotlight at such a young age, Danielle quipped “Very rewarding. When I approach a test and I am thinking in my head ‘Oh I don’t want to be doing this anymore’, I think about all the hard work that I’ve put in to receive this award, and then I feel more motivated.”

    Beth is extremely proud of Danielle, and stressed how hard Danielle has worked to achieve the Academics award. She was quick to explain that Danielle is very intelligent, and that the work doesn’t come easy for her. “She puts in the time and effort to be successful," she noted. Beth is also very thankful of the “radical problem solvers” they’ve been surrounded by during Danielle’s academic career. She goes on to explain that there have been no “we’ve never done that before” comments - they’ve always been met with problem solvers, which has not only been a huge help over the years, but also a great source of motivation.

    Toward the end of our conversation, I asked Danielle if she wanted to share any final thoughts. After a brief pause, she stressed that it’s important for everyone to understand how crucial it is to “use what you have and not let what you don’t have destroy who you are.”

    Danielle, I think I speak for everyone when I say thank you for being such an incredible inspiration!

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  • Speak up! How Bryan uses technology to be a part of the conversation

    Bryan Martinez - Riverside, CA

    On Friday, February 1st, Bryan Martinez will be the recipient of the 2019 Yes I Can Award for Technology at the CEC Conference in Indianapolis. Nominated by Theresa Copple, his Riverside, California County Deaf and Hard of Hearing Itinerant Teacher, Bryan will also be recognized by the district school board in March. When I asked how he felt about being in the spotlight, Bryan said he was most excited to tell his dad, who will be with him at the ceremony in Indianapolis to watch him receive the award.

    A high school senior, Bryan’s journey to the Technology award has been nothing if not difficult. When he was eight years old, he lost his mother — and his hearing — in a traumatic car accident. After this life-changing tragedy, Bryan, his brother, Kevin, and their dad grew very close, forging a strong support system that has helped Bryan not only cope with his hearing loss, but learn how to thrive in spite of it. Ms. Copple has also been a long-term source of support, having been in the unique position of working with Bryan and his family since the accident. In her role, Copple says, “I’m somewhere between a teacher and an aunt — it’s an opportunity to know the student and the family — and be with them through the ups and downs.”

    "Bryan always, always has a smile on his face! He doesn't let anything stop him - he perseveres." - Theresa Copple

    As a robotics and technology enthusiast, Bryan has embraced the technology that enables him to hear: bilateral hearing ads, a personal FM system, and a sound field system at school. He instructs his teachers on how to use the sound field system that improves his ability to participate in the classroom. Bryan would like to continue studying technology as he enters college next year, and he is currently applying for scholarships. Congratulations and best of luck to you, Bryan!

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