New FREED director draws on her own experience, passion
When area native Ana Acton was 14, an automobile accident injured her spinal cord and left her needing to use a wheelchair.
But the chair never confined her. She fought to ride the regular school bus to Nevada Union High School instead of the special bus with the lift, and when she won that fight, her friends carried her piggy-back up the bus steps.
As an adult in 1997, Acton joined Team Phoenix, an off-road wheelchair racing team and promoter of outdoor recreation opportunities for people with disabilities.
This week, the FREED Center for Independent Living named Acton as its new executive director, succeeding Ann Guerra, who has become executive director of the Nevada-Sierra In-Home Supportive Services Public Authority after six years of leading FREED.
Now 31 and living in Nevada City, Acton said FREED gave her the support she needed to become an advocate when she was a teen.
“It was really important, because I was trying to come to grips with what it meant to live with a disability and how I was going to do things differently and still be who I was,” Acton said Wednesday.
“I had great resources, such as FREED, that allowed me to get back into community life and continue to enjoy the things that I enjoyed before the accident,” Acton said.
That includes horseback riding, sports and enjoying the outdoors.
Organizations like FREED “allow people to continue to live independently and pursue their passions and stay involved,” she added.
“Ana’s passion for living without barriers, deep understanding of the independent living movement, skills as a spokesperson and ability to empower others through her example make her very well qualified to be executive director,” FREED board of directors’ chairwoman Kate Luce said.
At noon on the first Friday of every month, Acton also hosts “Disability Rap,” a show on KVMR that covers disability issues. She also developed Building Equal Access Today, a local grass-roots group that confronts barriers to people with disabilities.
Before taking the helm of FREED on Oct. 16, Acton worked for the nonprofit organization as a systems change advocate, organizing people to ensure equal access and opportunities for participation, and as program manager for support, advocacy, referrals and other assistance. She also has been involved in Nevada County’s committee to select electronic voting machines that allow disabled people to cast their vote at the polls.
The center is at 154 Hughes Road, Suite 1, in Grass Valley; call 742-4474 for more information or visit http://www.freed.org. FREED also has an office in Marysville.
To contact City Editor Trina Kleist, e-mail email@example.com or call 477-4230.
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