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New TMI Staff Board Rep is a Wheelchair Dancer Who Knows the Importance of Following Your Dreams

Andrea giving a dance performance
Andrea giving a dance performance

As a little girl Andrea Rivera dreamed of being a ballerina, but as a wheelchair user she felt compelled to put that dream on a shelf. It wasn’t until after she completed college that she pursued her dream of dancing. A Division Manager with the Toward Maximum Independence (TMI) Community Integration Training Program for less than two years, Andrea was elected by her peers to be the TMI Board of Directors Staff Representative due to her passion for assisting individuals with disabilities to also pursue their dreams. She shared with us what inspires her and how she fulfilled her dream of dancing.

Q. What interested you about working at TMI?

A. I have a personal passion in serving and supporting others with disabilities and encouraging them to advocate for their needs/desires and helping to provide the best services possible. When I found out that TMI’s mission aligns with my personal passion, I knew that I wanted to work for this amazing team. I am grateful that I am now a part of the TMI family.

Q. What is your favorite part about working at TMI?

A. There are so many reasons why I enjoy working at TMI, but I’d say that it all comes down to the care and support that is provided from the top down. I love getting to support my staff and clients while at the same time feeling supported by my supervisors and colleagues. Getting to work in a fun and positive environment is one of my favorite parts.

Q. What challenges do you and/or our clients face?

A. Challenges are a part of life and we experience these in both our personal and professional settings. A great challenge that I have seen in this past year, during the pandemic, has been the ability to maintain personal connections and professional growth. Although this has been one of our greatest challenges, I am proud to say that these challenges, although very real, were met with solutions of great creativity. TMI staff and clients have been able to remain connected via varying electronic sources on a consistent basis. Our clients have been able to continue to grow through personalized services including trainings, seminars, and one-on-one supports. We also offer fun virtual events and, of course, lots of encouragement!

Andrea and our client, Marti, leading a dance class for our clients and staff
Andrea and our client, Marti, leading a dance class for a TMI online event

Q. How does making a difference in the lives of our clients make you feel? A. Getting to meet and build relationships with our clients is truly an honor. I feel blessed to be a part of their lives and grateful to be a witness to the strides that they are forging.

Q. What are your hopes for the future of individuals with disabilities? A. Our future is very bright and I envision so many beautiful pathways with people with disabilities leading the way. I envision those with disabilities participating in all areas of society: legislation, private/public sectors, in the field of science and technology, aiding in public service, participating in entertainment/creative design, as authors, public speakers, and so much more. Really, the sky’s the limit. So my hope is that we, as people with disabilities, continue to pursue our dreams and push past any barriers that come our way.

Q. How did you become involved with wheelchair dancing?

A. Growing up, like many little girls, I wanted to be a ballerina as I loved dance. Since I was little I’ve used a wheelchair and growing up I never really saw people in wheelchairs dancing and, as a result, I never thought that was something I would be able to do. How I often describe it is that for many years I placed my dream of dancing in a box and put it away on a shelf because it just didn’t seem like something that could be my reality. It wasn’t until after college that I made a decision to pull out that box and revisit that dream. I began researching ‘wheelchair dancing’ and found an organization located in San Diego called Wheelchair Dancers Organization (WDO). I made a call and have had the opportunity to participate in many performances with them and, this past year, to help co-teach online dance classes.
Andrea dancing with Diana Follegati a Latin Jazz Instructor (photo: WDO website)
Andrea dancing with Diana Follegati a Latin Jazz Instructor (photo: WDO website)

Q. How can others can get involved with WDO? A. WDO is based in San Diego and they offer both in person and online dance classes. WDO is not just for people who use wheelchairs; WDO is an organization that includes all dancers, no matter their background (including those who know nothing about dance and have no experience with dance). They offer a variety of dance style classes including Latin jazz, hip hop, contemporary, bollywood, dance fitness, and so much more. Please visit the WDO website to learn more. WDO holds an annual fundraiser every year and this year it will be on October 2, 2021. All are welcome to come and learn more about this wonderful organization! Q. What does being the TMI Board Staff Representative mean to you?

A. It is truly an honor. I have the privilege to work alongside amazing individuals all of whom bring such great gifts, talents, passions, and innovative ideas. Getting to represent the staff voice is something I don’t take lightly as it is very important that our collective voice is heard as we each bring so much to the table.

A quote that resonates with me is: “I don’t know where we should take this company, but I do know that if I start with the right questions, and engage them in vigorous debate, we will find a way to make this company great.”- Jim Collins

I like that quote because it demonstrates that greatness comes from a team effort as opposed to one voice and that engagement of discussion is needed. As Staff Representative, I encourage all employees to share their thoughts, ideas, questions, and concerns about agency level dynamics with me.

Q. What do you enjoy doing in your free time? A. I would say that I am someone who greatly enjoys the life the Lord has given me and as a result enjoy so many things. Some of these include spending time with the Lord and serving in my local church, embracing quality time with family and friends, reading, going to concerts, dancing, and traveling. I have been to many of the states, as well as Ireland, Canada, and Israel. I hope to go to many more places!

Andrea Rivera smiling
Andrea Rivera

Q. Who do you admire and why? A. For me, admiration of others comes from their character and how they demonstrate themselves. Character traits that I most admire are: servant leadership, honesty, trustworthiness, integrity, and loyalty.

Q. Words to live by: A. “There is no greater disability in society, than the inability to see a person as more.” - Robert M. Hensel

Thank you for sharing with us, Andrea! Andrea is replacing the outgoing Staff Representative, Supported Employment Division Manager Brent Ramsey, who completed his term. TMI thanks Brent for his dedication to representing our staff in a fair and honest manner. TMI Family Support Services Social Worker Kati Jalbert was chosen as the alternate Staff Representative.

"Andrea is an exceptional employee who has already shown her ability to lead and advocate for quality services for those we serve," said TMI Executive Director Rachel Harris. "She is professional, compassionate and most of all genuine in her care for others. We are so blessed to have her represent our amazing employees as the newly appointed TMI Board Staff Representative."

The TMI Community Integration Training Program provides the support necessary to enable individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) to participate fully in community life. The agency is based on a belief that no person should have to work in a setting which is segregated due to the nature or severity of their disability. It is the mission of TMI’s Employment Solutions program to improve the quality of life of people with I/DD. This can be accomplished through the provision of an individually determined level of support enabling our clients to work in real jobs while enjoying fulfilling and natural relationships with people other than paid providers of support services.


Toward Maximum Independence (TMI) has been transforming the lives of children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities since 1981 and the Deaf and Hard of Hearing since 2000. In 2020, we launched Disabled Veteran Employment Services. TMI strives to help our clients to realize their hopes and dreams by providing Employment Solutions, Community Living and Family Support Services throughout San Diego, Riverside and Imperial Counties. To stay connected with us, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Together we can share acceptance and awareness, ultimately contributing to further inclusion.


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