SLV People First publishes first book

ANTONITO — Willie talks about serving on the governor-appointed State of Colorado Developmental Disabilities Council and flying to the meetings in Denver.

Lionel and Michelle share wedding photos.

Karie talks about her new boyfriend and her dream of one day working in a library.

Daniel tells about participating in basketball, track and bowling competitions.

Anthony shares a dream of going back to Disneyland.

These are some of “The Important Things” included in the recently published book by that name created by members of SLV People First.

During a regular meeting at the home of Lionel and Michelle Manzanares in Antonito on Sunday, group members and advisors talked about how the book came to be.

After hearing a presentation by the Pearce brothers (Olympic snowboarder Kevin Pearce suffered a serious brain injury after a fall) during a national conference in Oklahoma City, “that inspired us to write a book as a group,” Willie Wade said.

“If they can tell their story, why can’t we?” added Karie Valdez.

“The Important Things” tells the stories of San Luis Valley People First members on topics ranging from home to work and hobbies to relationships. It is an important book to read “because it will be interesting for you guys to read. You won’t get bored,” Lionel said, and Karie added, “because we are people with disabilities and we have our own story to tell you.”

Three of the members — Lionel Manzanares, Karie Valdez and Willie Wade — have served on the State of Colorado Developmental Disabilities Council, and Willie is a current member. The council advocates for people with disabilities and advises the governor and legislators.

SLV People First members also participate in the statewide Speaking For Ourselves group and regularly meet with other chapters throughout the state. The group is also part of a national group, Self Advocates Becoming Empowered. They are looking forward to a summer meeting in Grand Junction and national conferences. The national convention in 2020 will be in Denver. Proceeds from the book will help the members attend such functions. Published locally by O&V Printing, which provided a good deal for the group, books are available for a suggested $25 donation by contacting SLV People First Advisor Mary Russell at 719-580-4029.

“They are really about our life and what we want to accomplish,” Karie explained about the book. She works part time at Blue Peaks Developmental Services and wishes she could work more, but right now she is having some health issues. She would love to work in a library someday.

Michelle Chacon Manzanares’ favorite part of the book is the section about her wedding to Lionel Manzanares, complete with photos. They were married two years ago. The couple had waited 30 years because some members of their families opposed the marriage.

Michelle said her mother, who has passed away, “didn’t know if we could make it on our own. We have made it on our own. It’s been hard but we have made it on our own.”

She added, “I have gotten more responsibilities for stuff like the house and all the bills.”

Willie added that this is one of the frustrations of SLV People First members, that even well-meaning family members and others do not understand “that we can do stuff on our own. We don’t need other people to tell us what to do.”

He flies by himself to the council meetings in Denver, for example, and takes a train to meet other representatives from the group.

Michelle’s husband Lionel, who is retired, said he has had to battle misconceptions and discrimination all of his life. Fortunately, his family members were his first advocates. He said when he was very young and his family lived in San Luis, a nurse named Lucille told his parents “your son is not going to be any good for anything,” and she recommended his parents put him in an institution in Fort Lyons.

“My mom and dad got pretty mad at her because she wanted to take me over there,” Lionel said. “My dad told her ‘if you try to take him, I am going to sue you. The only institution is my house, and that’s where he’s going to stay’. She never came back.”

Karie is fortunate to have support from her mother Laverne who is an advisor with SLV People First and will be one of the drivers to the summer meeting in Grand Junction.

Karie said she has been involved with Blue Peaks since she was 3 years old and in fact took her first step while at the school there. Now 41, she is in the Blue Peaks’ adult residential program and lives in one of the Blue Peaks group homes. In the book she talks about her experiences at the group home, where she is glad to always have someone to talk to. She also talks about her relationship with Anthony Herrera, which has been going on for about six months now. They are about the same age, have the same supervisor and enjoy activities together like watching movies and plays and going out to dinner.

She writes in the book, “In the mornings at the workshop, if I don’t go looking for him, he comes looking for me.”

She said not all of her family was supportive of her relationship at first. She said they didn’t want to see her get hurt.

Independence is one of the subjects addressed in “The Important Things.” For example, Willie talks in the book about his family not wanting him to live on his own, but he has been living on his own now for four years. “Living on my own was the right thing for me, right from the beginning,” he said. He also works at Green Spot in Alamosa.

Transportation can be a problem for SLV People First members. Willie rides his bicycle or walks, as do other members of the group. However, many members must rely on friends or family to drive them to doctors’ appointments or events.

Lionel is glad to be living in Antonito now because he can walk to the Knights of Columbus, where he is a member, to the post office, to church or to dance class. He and Michelle enjoy Spanish dancing every week at the Dutch Mill.

Member Daniel Wyatt, 62, enjoys attending group meetings and participating in Special Olympics where he is a three-sport athlete, basketball, track and field and bowling. “You get to meet a lot of people,” he said.

The Valley chapter will host a track meet at 10:30 a.m. on May 19 at Adams State.

Although not an athletic competitor himself, Willie enjoys sports and has been able to attend Nuggets, Rockies and Broncos games.

SLV People First members said the group has been a great place to spend time with friends and to support each other through the good and bad times everyone experiences in life.

“We are not just a club,” Karie concluded. “We are like a family.”

Caption: Attendees at a meeting of SLV People First in Antonito on Sunday are from left Anthony, Lionel, Michelle, Karie, Maria, Daniel and Willie./Courier photo by Ruth Heide