By Lisa Danford
Keya Curtis has undergone a dramatic transformation in the past five years. She can still be shy and soft-spoken, but Curtis found her voice and passion as a Project CARE self-advocate. “My role has changed, but it makes me want to help people more,” she said.
In a way, Curtis, 43, has come full circle. She participated in one of the pilot Project CARE STARR classes in 2015 after battling a drug problem and losing custody of her children. She’s been diagnosed with a mild intellectual disability, bipolar disorder and depression. She was also a victim of abuse and neglect when she was a child. Curtis credits the STARR class with helping turn her life around and overcoming past trauma. “People can change,” she said.
In August 2016, she was hired as a self-advocate. “Keya has grown so much throughout the past five years. She is more confident, assertive and self-reliant,” said Holly Watson, Project CARE manager for the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati. “She’s not afraid to speak up and question injustices, and she is truly passionate about helping others.”
Throughout the pandemic, Project CARE self-advocates adapted how they provide services and support. Curtis noted that some people are not comfortable with or don’t have access to technology.
She found other ways to continue her outreach, including phone calls or text messages. Self-advocates have also connected with more people by offering virtual options. They’ve seen an increase in attendance because those who might have transportation barriers can now attend multiple events from the comfort and safety of their own home.
Being adaptable and having shared experiences with her peers allows Curtis to excel as a self-advocate.
“Where I came from, I know when somebody else needs help, and I’m willing to step up and help others,” she said. “My ear and my heart are always open.”
Curtis is proud of recently earning her GED diploma and has her own apartment in Norwood. She enjoys giving back in other ways, too, most often through the Freestore Foodbank or St. Vincent de Paul.
“I think Keya has gained more confidence in herself and an understanding about who she is and what she wants,” Watson said.
“I am so inspired by her determination because it has not been easy for her. There were many times when she wanted to quit trying, yet she never gave up.”
ABOUT PROJECT CARE
Project CARE provides prevention and intervention services to survivors with disabilities and those at risk of victimization. In collaboration with partner agencies, it also educates people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities about healthy relationships, safety planning, and violence prevention, including how to seek support.
The self-advocacy initiative emphasizes equity, visibility, and respect for survivors with disabilities. Self-advocates teach people how to understand and exercise their personal rights, as well as how to advocate for themselves through support groups, educational and art-based classes, and creative personal projects.
To learn more, contact Holly Watson at (513) 361-2117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.