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A Journey through Perseverance: from San Salvador to Philadelphia

By Evellym Yanira Hustedt, Glenside, PA

I am a 36-year-old Latina with a sensory disability who survived a war, and overcame multiple barriers to get to where I am today.

I was born and raised in San Salvador, El Salvador. Most of my childhood revolved around the war in El Salvador. Unlike most children, I was not kissed goodnight by mom and dad. My father left my mother when I was three-months old. I lived with my mother, grandmother, grandfather and my aunts. The evenings were not always peaceful. Sometimes, you could hear the killings that occurred outside, because we lived near a mountain where the guerillas hid and abused their victims.

During the day, sometimes I was not able to go to school. I didn’t miss school because I was sick, but because my relatives feared for our lives and kept me home. I felt as though my childhood was stolen from me. I left the innocence of my childhood behind in my home country at a very young age.

When I came to the United States in 1980, I did not know English. Shortly after my arrival, I was diagnosed as having Optic Atrophy. I was also told that I was considered legally partially blind. My visual acuity was 20/500 and 20/400.

The doctors told me that it would be all right, that I could still do whatever I wanted to do, except for drive a car. I didn’t believe the doctors about not being able to drive a car.  I was 11-years-old when I found out I had a disability.   

Learning how to live and finding role models
Instead of doing whatever children typically do, I spent my first days in the U.S. learning English and coping with the fact that I had a disability. My hobby became translating for my mother at all times, because she didn’t know English. As a teenager, I learned to drive a car, and drove successfully for one year until it was stolen. I realize that God was looking out for me then, because it was very foolish for me to attempt to drive.

I figured out alternative ways of doing things and incorporated assistive technologies in my life. The assistive devices and my creative ways of living life to the fullest helped me overcome many barriers.

Through the years, I learned to live with my disability. I decided blindness wasn’t going to stop me from reaching my goals. I met people who were blind and had excellent employment. These people became my role models. I learned that people who are blind or partially sighted are like anybody else. In reality, there are blind people employed in almost every employment sector, except driving or piloting.  

More education and volunteering
In 1990 I went back to school. I decided to get my college degree. I was the first person in my family to earn a degree.

As a young adult, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do professionally, so I started volunteering at Liberty Resources, Inc. Liberty Resources, Inc., the Center for Independent Living in Philadelphia. They later hired me on as an Information and Referral Specialist. In my position I traveled a lot and worked as a speaker on employment issues for people with disabilities.

During my time at Liberty Resources I got married and later got divorced. I needed a change and decided to go big. I changed jobs, joined the Greater Philadelphia Church of Christ and started to study the bible.

Starting a Family, Starting a Business
My new friends from church helped me deal with the emotional fallout of my divorce. Then, I joined Lincoln University’s Pre-Masters Program then the Masters in Human Services Degree. It was a stressful time because I was working full-time and going to school full-time. In the process of all this, I met a wonderful man at church, who became my best friend.

I have been married for almost six years to my best friend. We have two children: Lee William and Jay Elias. Lee is 3 years old and Jay is almost 2 years old.

My husband and I started two companies; Training, Empowerment, Advocacy and Mentoring Services, Inc. (TEAMS Inc.) and Hustedt Group, LLC.

TEAMS Inc. is a non-profit organization that assists individuals with disabilities to achieve employment. TEAMS Inc. is an Employment Network (EN) through the Ticket to Work Program from the Social Security Administration.

Hustedt Group, LLC. is our second company, a consulting firm. We provide different disability awareness training to teachers and other audiences through programs that help providers improve the quality of their services.

We also volunteer at our church, teaching toddlers and school-age children about the Bible.

My latest achievement is being hired as a freelance writer through the World Institute on Disability. I truly believe Latinos with disabilities can achieve whatever they want in life as long as they persevere and use their talents.