Walk into Serendipity Ice Cream in McMinnville, Ore., and the face smiling across the counter at you might well belong to Dana Kearns, an enthusiastic-about-life woman whose self-confidence belies the challenges in her life.
Born with learning and hand/eye coordination disabilities, Dana graduated from McMinnville High School in 1992. She kept her own apartment, held a job, competed in Special Olympics (bowling, track, and basketball), and enjoyed a close relationship with her parents and extended family. But when she lost her mother to cancer in June 2009, Dana’s life hit a crushing low.
“I would always go over to her house and help her,” Dana said, having cared daily for her mother during the last six months of her life. “Now I was lonely. A big part of my heart was missing. What was I going to do?” Adding to her loss was the death of her cousin a month later.
But when Dana was matched with a personal care assistant, hired expressly to involve her in community inclusion, her life gradually swung back into place. Dana and her new PCA went on regular outings — to the zoo, the beach, sporting events and concerts — and took walks through the woods, talking and sharing their lives with each other.
Dana was introduced to horses. “I have always wanted to be around them,” she said, “but never had the opportunity.” Beginning with grooming and leading, then advancing to saddling and riding, her self-confidence grew along with her passion for her four-legged friends. Her favorite experience has been beach riding on the Oregon Coast.
Dana discovered writing and has become passionate about photography. With her Nikon in hand, she shoots photos everywhere she goes. She has authored several articles for local newsletters, many of them accompanied by her own photography. In June 2010, McMinnville’s News Register did a story on her, including a reprint of a piece she had written about growing up with disability.
After a hiatus from community employment, Dana sought work through Mid-Valley Rehabilitation, a local non-profit organization for persons with disabilities. Her placement with Industrial Services and later Serendipity Ice Cream has served her well. She loves her job and co-workers and enjoys interacting with customers.
Highly active in Special Olympics, Dana has been asked to serve as a Global Messenger in promoting awareness for the organization. She is also is a self-advocate for people with disabilities and has volunteered with children at her church. At home, she can be found reading a book, watching a movie, sitting at her computer, or playing with her dachshund, Nikolas. She loves getting out and doing life whether it be fishing, walking in nature, hugging her favorite horse, joining her friends for social night, or playing in the annual Mid-Valley Client-Versus-Staff basketball game. She has a heart for people with disabilities and is always ready to lend a helping hand.
Dana’s advice to others with disability? “You can do anything you put your mind to. The word can’t is not in our vocabulary. We can do it!”
Cheryl Wanner is a freelance writer in Oregon.