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Helpful One

This article was written by Michelle Coltharp, age 25, for her feature writing course. It is about her friend, Teresa Soto.

Although many people turn away from other people with disabilities, Teresa Soto is one of the few who would instead turn towards them with a helping hand.

Many friends know Soto as a junior attending El Centro Community College or as a produce clerk at Kroger, but she is so much more than that.

This 24-year-old female has learned much from part of a family with eight siblings, some with special needs. She has five sisters and two brothers. Soto is the second oldest sibling.

Soto explained she has a career goal to help people with disabilities because she believes her siblings have accomplishments to contribute as much as anyone else. "I want to help others reach their potential while I wait for my siblings to reach theirs," she said.

"Being in a large family, I have learned how to not be selfish about material things and always share, but most importantly having lots and lots of patience," Soto said.

Jennifer Brown lived across the hall from Soto in a dorm at the University of North Texas. Brown could always hear Soto laughing at the popular television show, "I Love Lucy." Brown said although Soto was very dedicated to working in the cafeteria then, she knew Soto would have preferred to be out with her friends instead. Soto's friend said, "She taught me to work hard and always laugh even in bad times."

"I can see her as a mother. Yes, she likes to have fun, but when we got loud in the dorms, she would always try to calm us down a little bit," Brown said. Brown considers Soto a close friend as well as a confidant.

Soto said her all of her family members are close with each other and due to this she prefers to be around a lot of people rather than by herself.

Two of her sisters are autistic and one brother has been diagnosed with mental retardation and ADD, or Attention Deficit Disorder. Soto said she was only 10 years old when the doctors discovered her sisters at ages 3 and 4 had autism.

"It forced me to grow up faster than I would have liked to," Soto said. She believes her mother became a miracle worker in a short time by taking her two sisters to doctors, psychiatrists, and nutritionists.

"She has meetings with their teachers to make sure they get the best of what they need to learn how to function and contribute to society," Soto said. "Growing up with them was very difficult because they always required more care and attention. Their needs always came first before my older sisters and me," Soto said.

Soto feels going to public places is even more difficult because people stare and make jokes and say things about the way they are and how they behave. "My mom always told us to ignore them, but I have made it a custom to be blunt sometimes and tell them off," Soto said.

Soto feels there is never a dull moment with her autistic sisters, Catherine, 16 and Christina, 15. "When Catherine was 10 years old, she took Crisco shortening to her room and put it all over her face; she did such a good job it almost looked like a beauty mask," Soto said. Soto explained her mother was furious due to there being no more Crisco left, yet the family had a good laugh about it then and even now.

Soto said her other sister, Christina, due to her autism, sometimes takes food from others presently. The whole family went to McDonald's to get some milkshakes and cookies. Christina was nowhere to be found. They went to the manager to ask for help, and when they did, they discovered Christina in the kitchen looking for food. The manager gave the family a tray of food "on the house," or free.

"Because of them (her sisters) I am now in pursuit of getting certified to teach children and adults with special needs. I have a lifetime of experience and have a lot to offer in return," Soto said. Soto worked beginning in 1996 for three consecutive summers at Camp Summit, a camp that hosts disabled people. She was a counselor for one term and a unit leader for her last two terms.

"I was determined to work there. It was the only application I filled out. It would give me a chance to give me more experience in working with people with special needs," Soto said. "I have learned to be even more grateful that I can groom and speak for myself," Soto said. Soto explained many campers require complete assistance to have their basic needs met. She said some campers even need assistance to say something. "I have learned to listen very carefully. Just because someone cannot speak does not mean he or she has nothing to say," Soto said.

The compassionate, loving student has a high goal. She aspires to obtain a teaching certificate in order to be able to give individuals with special needs encouragement and support. "I want people to see their abilities and not their limitations," Soto said.

Jennifer Malone, another friend of Soto's said she is "funny, nice, caring, hard worker, and sweet" person. "She loves her family," Malone said. Soto's mother, Patsy said her daughter began considering this career her senior year in high school. She asked Teresa if she was certain of this decision since she spent all of her life in these conditions. Patsy said Teresa's replied, "I'm sure."

Patsy explained Soto found the job at Camp Summit because she was in search of this kind of experience at UNT Her mother said she is glad that her daughter landed upon this job because now every summer, her sisters spend one week at this camp as residents.

"She is a very hard worker. She is very dedicated to what she believes in. All she needs is a chance," Soto's mother said.

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