Established 1997

1-800-320-7140 Scholarship Fund Winning Essay for Winter 2010/2011

Our Question: Please describe how you have offered or received a helping hand? Feel free to speak about a specific situation or more general ideas - or both.

Jennifer Cole
Oregon State University


I see much of my life as a series of receiving and offering help that is integral to who I am today. In high school I was involved in numerous disability advocacy and outreach efforts through not only my college disability group (in the Running Start Program), but also through the University of Washington's DO-IT Program that mentored and created academic information for students with disabilities and the Mayor of Tacoma's Disability Task Force that informed local accessibility policy. I loved being involved and helping my fellow people with disabilities, but my home life was becoming more and more physically abusive as I grew older and started developing my own opinions.

I was quickly sinking in to depression and saw my bright future fading fast. A group of friends in California that had various disabilities themselves saw what was happening and opened their homes to me. They were willing to put in the effort to help me take care of my physical needs in order to get me into a safer situation. I decided to take them up on their offer and dropped out after my first quarter in college in order to get away from my father and make a better life for myself. They gave me the opportunity to start healing the overwhelming emotional pain of abuse, and I will forever be grateful for what they did and the opportunities they gave me.

Once I got to California, I was no longer considered a resident and could not receive financial aid for college. Without other funding options, I was no longer able to continue school. After considering my options, I decided to put my technical skills to work and start my own statewide Internet service provider along with a few friends (which was later dissolved). I also continued to volunteer for local disability groups such as the Doran Center for the Blind as an administrative assistant in my spare time.

Having access to "free" Internet services through my new company also allowed me to start the nonprofit group that would become the GimpGirl Community, an all volunteer online support service for women with disabilities that is still going strong almost 12 years later. I continue to volunteer full-time for GimpGirl as a Program Director and have returned to school thanks to Oregon State University's eCampus to further develop my leadership skills. I have also developed a small team of central volunteer staff to further the mission of bringing women with disabilities worldwide together for co-mentorship, self-advocacy training and support in an inclusive environment that understands their needs and struggles. Many of our members have or are currently struggling with abuse or neglect and need a safe place to work through those problems to find out who they are underneath the chaos. We run weekly interactive support groups on Second Life and text chat rooms, and do many outreach events and articles to involve the public in our mission. Supporting other women with disabilities allows me to pay forward the invaluable help I have received in my life.