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Expanding support for adults with disabilities, one woman is making sure her community is heard

Posted at 9:13 AM, Apr 24, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-24 09:17:18-04

BALTIMORE — When you step into the garden of Moonlit Acres Retreat Farm, you’re greeted by Hannah Olexy’s warm smile and contagious laugh.

“My message for anyone who has a disability is to continue to advocate. If you’re not being heard, continue to push and advocate, advocate, advocate,” said Hannah Olexy, a peer advocate specialist.

Hannah creates workshops for people in the neurodivergent community, from interactive programs like gardening and yoga to leading classes on peer-to-peer abuse and neglect training.

“I feel like there’s not enough people who listen or wanting to share because they’re afraid to. It’s really empowering to hear everyone’s story. It gives me the chills,” said Olexy.

Around 30% of people with disabilities suffer from some type of mistreatment, whether it’s verbal, physical, or financial abuse at home or in the workplace.

“I worked at a hospital with food services for a very long time and I didn’t have the best experiences there just because I had to do several different jobs and they weren’t being very specific where to go or what I was going to see and it kind of made me feel uncomfortable,” said Olexy.

25-year-old Hannah has Turner Syndrome, a genetic condition that affects only women. It happens when one of the x chromosomes is completely or partially missing causing a shorter stature, heart problems, and reproductive issues.

“In this field, there's still this idea that people with disabilities can’t help people with disabilities. That’s a wall we had to work through with Hannah and break down,” said Todd Bonney, the Assistant Director at Moonlit Acres Retreat Farm.

Bello Machre in Glen Burnie serves about 400 people every year, providing housing and career coaching.

"We want people to live full lives and full lives involve being part of a community and having friends like Hannah be a part of your life,” said Robert Ireland, the CEO of Bello Machre.

Hannah receives job training through Bello Machre while working full-time at Moonlit Acres, a retreat farm in Carroll County for the neurodiverse community.

“I work with them 1 on 1 individually, it’s pretty awesome. They’re my best friends,” said Olexy.

“Not only did we realize she can provide service but in many ways she’s doing it better than we do. We learned so much from watching her, she’s so intuitive. She can see someone and realize what they’re struggling with. Do we need patience here or do we need intervention,” said Bonney.

The farm partners with Bello Machre which provides wrap-around services including housing and life skills coaching for all ages.

“When people exit the school system that community disappears. We need places like Bello Machre and Moonlit Acres to provide a community for people to make connections,” said Bonney.