Living Well Alumni

John MartinezHundreds of Kansans with disabilities and chronic health conditions took the Living Well workshop between 2007 and 2012, when the program's funding concluded..

John Martinez (pictured at left) took the course on Prairie Band Potawatomi Reservation, where it is offered by Three Rivers Inc. Center for Independent Living.

"In the classes I learned how to maintain my health better, and I strive to do this on a regular basis," said John.

 Dianne Bradley, Veronica Thigpen, and Paul and Anita Bjorling also sared their experiences in a news story by KU Works



DianneDianne Bradley

When Dianne Bradley attended her first session of “Living Well with a Disability,” at the Coalition for Independence, she felt she didn’t belong. 

“I didn’t think I was disabled enough to attend the class because I’m not in a wheelchair. But then I asked myself, how is disabled defined?” she recalls. 

Over the course of several months, the Kansas City, Kan., resident gained perspective on what it means to have a disability and a new understanding of her own battle with Parkinson’s Disease.

“The class opened me up to other possibilities,” Dianne says. “Before this, I was secluded in my house and feeling sorry for myself because I have a debilitating illness that won’t get better. I felt as though there was no hope.” Now, she says, “I’ve become more positive and empowered than I have been since I was diagnosed in 2004.”

“I dove right into this,” Dianne says about setting goals to overcome her obstacles. “One of my medications causes weight gain and makes me move slowly, so losing weight was my first goal.” She began exercising and swimming at a nearby YMCA, and within a few months lost 10 pounds. 

Dianne set other challenging goals that she continues working on since completing the workshop. She sold her house and moved to one without stairs, and she’s working with an employment network to find a part-time job. She went on disability after she was diagnosed, but she’s a young 48-year-old who wants to stay involved. 

Another challenge is educating her own family to accept and understand what her disability means to her. And she’s taking a leadership role by starting a Parkinson’s Disease support group for people between the ages of 40 and 55. She decided to start the group, she says, because at the few support groups that she’s visited, “I was the youngest by at least 25 years.”

Dianne praises the Living Well curriculum and those who delivered it at CFI: “I highly recommend this workshop to anyone. The instructors, the workbook and my peers made the difference. The program taught me the importance of confidence, empowerment and networking. I read in a book that disappointments are inevitable; discouragement is a choice.”

Perhaps most important, she gained the power to stay connected. After the Living Well workshop ended, Dianne and several others in the group decided to continue meeting monthly. In her words, this is a way “to stay in touch and continue to uplift one another and spend that ‘our time’ together away from home, family and other stresses we face each day. The peer interaction makes a huge difference.”

VeronicaVeronica Thigpen

After living with family members for all of her life, Veronica Thigpen, age 38, is now living in her own apartment. She credits Living Well with a Disability with helping her reach this goal of independence and learn new, healthier habits. She took the workshop through 3 Rivers Center for Independent Living, which is based in Wamego, Kan.

“I love my apartment,” said Veronica, who has an intellectual disability and a physical disability. “I cook for myself. I changed all my fried food into baked and broiled food. And I used to eat lots of snacks. I’ve cut down a whole lot.” 

This is a major change for a woman who was raised in North Carolina on a diet that centered on fried foods and high calorie items like biscuits. “My family is proud of me, because my blood pressure was high and my health was going down,” she said.

Veronica also added exercise to her life by walking twice a week with others from the Living Well workshop. After taking the class, she lost 20 pounds and her blood pressure decreased significantly. 

In addition to improving her health and gaining independence, Veronica developed the important ability to be with people more fully.

“One of my main goals was to be around people without having panic attacks,” she said. “The class helped my self-esteem. I learned how to be around a lot of people. Now I can actually go around strangers and strike up a conversation with them.”

She is using her new confidence as an advocate for people with disabilities and an active member of her community. She became president of 3 Rivers’ Peer Support Group in Junction City, Kan., and has recruited 11 new members. The group is creating a cookbook as a fundraiser.

She is also active in the CIL’s Youth Mentoring Day. At the 2010 event, she talked to many people and shared something she learned through her Living Well experience: “How people with obesity let other people put them down.”

With the support of Jo Turner-Moats at 3 Rivers, who was also her Living Well facilitator, Veronica is continuing to work on other goals she set during the workshop, such as getting her driver’s license. Although she didn’t pass the written test the first time, she knows she will be able to pass it, just as she knows she will continue to lose more weight. 

While this winter’s many storms and an illness made exercising hard, Veronica said that she has made a very basic change that helps her continue to grow and improve: “My attitude used to be negative. I’ve changed my attitude.”

How Has the Living Well Course Been Useful to You?

These comments come from Kansans around the state who have benefitted from Living Well with a Disability. If you have participated in Living Well and would like to share your story, please contact us.

  • I try different things.
  • I’m setting goals, planning daily meals, and following the goals through.
  • Goal setting every day, monthly, and long term has helped me. The materials can be referred to in every day life.
  • I take a new look out on every thing.
  • I now set goals and problem solve using the format presented in the class – there was a lot of good info.
  • I use the knowledge I have gained in public. I also understand my rights a great deal more.
  • I will try to get more exercise, take better care of my apartment.
  • I try to adapt each day and never go past my limitations. I'm good at making lists to do then crossing things out as they are done.
  • I have begun cooking new healthier foods. Am working on a budget and trying to find help for medication costs. Will try to find ways to advocate for the independent disabled in particular, who function mostly alone.
  • I will be more concerned about my eating habits as a diabetic.
  • I’ll use the graphic charts to track progress/goals.
  • It helps keep me on track.
  • I will help people whenever I can.
  • I think some of us will continue to do advocacy work together for the community

What Did You Like Best about the Living Well Course?

  • Learning different things.
  • Getting together and sharing everybody's ideas.
  • The feeling of family we all had.
  • Group of people being able to open up about what they thought each lesson was about.
  • The group meeting, listening to everyone's problems and issues.
  • It was like a group meeting where people talk about what's on their mind that related to each chapter.
  • The group – getting to know other and building a support system.
  • I liked it best when we would talk about stuff and share experiences and ideas and plans for the future. The people added real texture to the class.
  • All of it.
  • The Wii fitness day.
  • Getting to play the Wii.
  • Allowing us to get feedback from everyone in the group.
  • Communicating with others in class.
  • Chapter 9 – “Eating Well to Live Well.”
  • Friendly presentation.
  • Meeting people and working with them.
  • Everything.
  • The fellowship and discussion of very good written materials.
  • The group and the leaders.
  • Learning about new foods.
  • Learning how to live well with disability.
  • Going to library.
  • Getting to know one another.
  • Learning how to set goals; fellowship with people.
  • All.
  • The presenters were good.
  • To know there are people as I am.
  • The info.
  • The group setting and the sharing.
  • All of it.
  • Information and the healthy eating chapter.
  • Getting out of house.
  • Interaction.
  • The people and the help it provided.