By Daniel J Vance MS, LPCC

In both 2014 and 2015, now 50-year-old Hillary Marides, of Los Angeles, California, was first runner-up in the Ms. Wheelchair California competition. She was born with cerebral palsy, and today uses a wheelchair due to challenges following hip surgery years ago, and doesn't drive a car due to manual dexterity issues and slower reaction times.

Marides has done a great deal of good over the years for many people with disabilities.

In a telephone interview, she said, “I was always smart academically. My mom actually got me placed in school in 1973, before they even allowed people with cerebral palsy in public schools. School was a lot more fun than being tutored at home. My mom sent me to a camp for disabled children when I was 11 and before that my only friends didn't have disabilities. I was the only disabled child at my public school.”

She graduated from Gordon College in 1989 with a bachelor's degree, and from California State University-Northridge three years later with a master's degree in marriage and family counseling. She became a school counselor in the Los Angeles school district, a job lasting until 2001 when grant funding ran out. About the same time, she learned she would have lost her disability benefits had she remained employed with that part-time job and another one.

Her greatest life passion has been volunteering for Joni and Friends, a Los Angeles-area headquartered, faith-based, international organization serving people with disabilities.

She said, “I've known since I was 14 that I wanted to work for Joni and Friends. I've been a volunteer off and on the last 20 years and started out answering letters. I've done just about everything there, such as lead support groups for women on family retreats, go to Poland for wheelchair distributions, do tours of the building (for visitors), go on family retreats, and many other things.”

She became a Joni and Friends ministry associate in 2010. Although unable to work at the organization's headquarters the last year due to transportation issues, she still does volunteer work from her home. Joni and Friends, along with her church, bought her two years ago a $3,000 manual wheelchair in order to facilitate visits to her elderly parents.

She addressed people with disabilities: “The best advice I have is that they can trust God to provide for their needs. Jesus will provide for all their needs.”

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