For as long as she can remember, Karly Stanislovaitis, 18, has been determined to make it on her own. Now a journalism major at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, Karly is doing just that. “Being independent is awesome. It’s an irreplaceable feeling,” Karly says. “There are many challenges, but to be independent is worth every moment.”
Born with cerebral palsy, Karly has limited strength and muscle spasticity in her lower body, which makes her unable to walk on her own. She also has a learning disability and a condition in her eyes, called strabismus, which causes her to have weakness in her eye muscles and limited depth perception.
“Being independent can have its ups and downs, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
With these challenges, Karly has become a stand-out student. She graduated from Dexter High School last spring with a 3.5 GPA, and she is now embarking on a goal she has had since she was a young child: to go away to college and make it on her own.
“I’ve always had a drive in me to be independent. I think I got that from my parents.” Karly said. “They always believed I could be independent, and they instilled that belief in me.” Karly says her parents had a huge role in helping her get to where she is today. “So many people with disabilities don’t have people who tell them they can have a normal, happy life, but my parents always did. They always pushed me to do things I didn’t think I could do, and they gave me the drive to set goals for myself. Being away from them now I realize how much I owe them.”
Before going away to college, Karly got involved with the Ann Arbor CIL, and staff members Anna Dusbiber-Gossage and Jen Chapin-Smith helped her prepare for a lot of the challenges that would lie ahead for her on campus. Anna and Jen helped Karly think through things like how she’d get around on campus with enough time to get to class, how she’d shower, and how she’d do laundry. They also helped Karly figure out the right questions to ask the University’s Office for Disability Support Services and advocate for what she needed.
“I’ve had to work so hard for things so many people take for granted. The challenges I’ve faced have only made me want to work harder.”
“The things Anna and Jen helped me with were things I never would have thought of on my own, and they were important. Anna and Jen gave me advice I couldn’t have gotten from others in my life. They knew what it would be like to have a disability on campus because they’ve been there. Only someone else with a similar disability can understand.”
Karly says the most significant benefit of working with Jen and Anna was just getting to know Anna, who also has cerebral palsy. “Anna is a few years older than me, and she has graduated from college, she’s working at the CIL, and she is married. She has made a good life for herself. Just by being her, she has set an important example for me.”
Karly was a multi-year winner of the CIL’s John Weir Academic Scholarship, and she was a member of the Center’s AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Employment Opportunity Program. “Being involved with the CIL changed my perspective on life,” she said. “Everyone I’ve met there has overcome adversity in different ways, and I approach college differently now because of that.”