A penny for your thoughts

Cathy Parr is a longtime voter, but we hadn’t visited in several years, so when she called and asked for a date, I knew it was for something important. Cathy was born with cerebral palsy (CP), which affects a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. CP has also affected Cathy’s speech, a diagnosis called dysarthria, making what she says difficult to understand, but which does not affect her intelligence or comprehension.

Cathy graduated from Falls Church High School and earned an associate’s degree in word processing, but her severe disabilities are barriers to finding a job. Cathy is confined to a wheelchair, so travel outside of her home at Merica House at Skyline requires a lot of planning and coordination with service providers, such as MetroAccess.

Cathy is a longtime disability rights advocate – she testified at the Virginia General Assembly and questioned members of Congress on Capitol Hill about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and remaining limits on wheelchair access.

Cathy loves soft rock, movies, going to museums and concerts, and often does shopping for herself and the other residents of Merica House. What his handicaps did not lessen was his zest for life, his positive attitude and his indomitable spirit.

When I welcomed her into my office last week, I wasn’t surprised to see her wide smile and sparkling eyes, but I was surprised by her wardrobe – a pretty lace summer dress white, a sparkly tiara, necklace and earrings and a long embroidered sash that read “2022 Mrs. Wheelchair Virginia.”

Yes, Cathy Parr won this year’s competition and can compete for Ms. Wheelchair America, which will be held in Michigan in mid-August.

Her state-level win provides limited financial support for the national event, but she needs to raise several thousand dollars for travel, accommodations and helper support. She created a Go Fund Me account, gofund.me/e563e487, to pay for her participation in the national competition. I have already made a donation and I hope you will too.

Cathy appreciates her friends and family who know her well and treat her like an adult, not talking to her like a child or ignoring her completely. Cathy is also not shy about repeating herself for those who have trouble understanding what she has to say.

I appreciated that when we started our conversation; we had a lot to talk about, but his lively discussion was hard to understand.

I asked her if we could slow down so I could catch everything she wanted to say. “Of course” was her response, and we continued our tour with stories of lunches with her dad in his downtown office when she was little and her mom’s excitement about the pageant.

Cathy also described her disappointment when she was told by state agencies, “you are too disabled for us to help you find a job.” She decided to find a job where she could be her own boss, and is now a freelance consultant for a jewelry company, with her own micro-business. Congratulations, Cathy, and good luck at nationals!

The Art in the Mason District Governmental Center has a new exhibit – large paintings of Sophia, a young teenager with Down syndrome, commonly known as Down syndrome. Sophia’s colorful paintings include bunnies, ladybugs, flowers and a lion worthy of a “Lion King” poster. My favorite is a very bare-bones—a few black lines on a pink background—but captivating pelican. The small exhibit will be on display at 6507 Columbia Pike in Annandale, through August 31, 2022.

Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. It can be emailed to [email protected]

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