We are happy to announce that Julia LiPuma is the recipient of our January #GoServe Leadership scholarship.
Julia is a freshman at the University of Delaware, studying toward a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. Julia’s cerebral palsy forces her to use lofstrand crutches, a walker, or an electric scooter to get around. She has also had eight surgeries.
Despite these challenges, Julia works extremely hard to succeed in school and in service. What stood out to us about Julia is her drive to remain positive and serve others no matter her circumstances. Time and time again, Julia dedicates her life to serving those around her.
Julia’s life is already a great example to everyone who has had the opportunity to come in contact with her or her story. Because we can’t tell it better than she has, please read her story below.
“Goodbye, Garrett!” I exclaimed after our weekly play therapy hour, which included singing Garrett’s favorite songs -“The Wheels on the Bus” as always a particular favorite. Garrett, a non-verbal eleven year-old boy with autism and Down syndrome, would clap along. But this particular Wednesday afternoon was different. As I waved goodbye, he said for the first time, “Bye, Judia.” “Close enough,” I joyfully thought. His mother audibly gasped and looked from me to him. “That’s the first time he ever said anyone’s name!” she whispered. Leaving that day, I understood again that I need not only be the recipient of kindness and assistance, but I can also be the provider.
I have cerebral palsy, which makes my life, at times, challenging. This disability prevents me from walking independently, but also from participating in situations that most children experience, like jumping on the trampoline, riding a bike, and most of all, driving a car. When frustrated, I remember a framed quote on my nightstand:
Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the rain.
I have looked at this quote every day for fourteen years. This may seem odd, as I am a girl for whom dancing is an unlikely pastime, or at least dancing without my ever-present Lofstrand crutches. My mother probably put it there to inspire me to attend to my physical therapy more enthusiastically, but the quote did more than that. Garrett saying my name helped me again realize what “dancing in the rain” really means: to find the positives within the negatives, often with the help of one’s personal umbrellas. But it has taken me a long time to learn about dancing in the rain, and I am still learning. For many years the rains came long and hard, and I have had to depend on umbrellas to get me through – people like my parents, my physical therapist, and my friends.
My fourth of eight surgeries, which rotated my errant hip back into the socket where it belonged with nine titanium screws, stands out the most. I thought it would eat my summer with it’s giant mouth of pain and boredom, but umbrellas came. My friends kept me company while I painstakingly healed in my mom’s office, unable to ascend the stairs. They painted my toes. When I was feeling grimy from not showering, they gingerly wheeled me out to the summer-steamy deck. They hosed down my stinky, sweaty body. Laughing along with my beautiful parasols, I did get some summer.
A few years later, during my internship at the Isla Vista Youth Project, I worked in a toddler room dedicated to serving working families.
Many of these families struggle to survive on inadequate wages. One boy, Damian, grabbed a book and ran to me every time I walked in. As I read stories I thought about the social inequities they didn’t even know yet that they faced. I wondered how I could help these children reach their highest potential as people in my life have helped me to do. I am not sure if I made a lasting impression on them, but they surely did on me. They reminded me of something I had first discovered through my work with Garrett, the value of helping others learn to dance in the rain.
The importance of umbrellas keeps emerging in my life, as it did at a hospital where I currently work in the psychiatric department.
Candidly, I was scared on my first day. As I entered, I heard patients crying from their beds. Then I met Sharon. Over checkers and canasta, I learned about her own set of formidable challenges. She has bipolar disorder and has suffered the loss of a child. There probably isn’t an umbrella big enough for that, but I hope that my visits provide momentary breaks in the clouds. When Sharon says, “Will your mom be mad if I steal you?” I think maybe they do.
Dancing in the rain will look different for different people. Garrett’s dance is different than Damian’s dance, which is different from Sharon’s dance. My dance has been about graciously receiving help while joyfully giving it. It has been about cherishing my many umbrellas even as I hold one out over others. I mean to make it my life’s work. As a psychologist, I hope to help other people learn their dances. Everyone should have opportunities to dance in the rain”
We know you will continue to serve and lead others by your own great example. Thanks for being an “umbrella” to all of those around you.