Sophie Lee-Park Overcomes Obstacles, Helps Others Do The Same
April 18, 2017
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She wheeled herself into the park for another Peer Buddies session with one mission in mind; a mission to help children facing similar battles she has dealt with. Sophie Lee-Park, a sophomore at Dos Pueblos High School, spends her time volunteering at Peer Buddies helping adolescents with communication disabilities become better at expressing themselves and opening up to others.
Lee-Park has been struggling with Cerebral Palsy, a disorder that affects body movement and muscle coordination since the age of two, and has used a wheelchair since second grade. According to Cerebralpalsey.org, Cerebral Palsy (CP) occurs due to abnormal brain development and can last for a few years to a lifetime. So far, there is no known cure for CP, but it can be controlled with therapy, various medicines, and surgeries.
From a young age, Lee-Park was very self-conscious about her disability and believed that keeping to herself would protect her from the judgment of others. After trying to cope with this fear for many years, she finally learned to accept who she is.
“For school, you know, I’ve come a long way from being the kid who was always in the background,” Lee-Park said. “I have a twin who always had friends around her, so I learned to surround myself with friends.”
Lee-Park’s sister, Isabel, has stayed by her side and continues to support Sophie throughout the battles she has faced. Isabel has watched her sister blossom into the person she is today, an outgoing and social individual.
“Sophie was a really quiet person when she was in elementary school,” said Lee-Park. “But I have to say she has gotten a lot more social with people; she is really social like…more social than I am.”
After such a long silence, Sophie Lee-Park broke the barrier of discomfort and has made close friends at DP. She looks up to her friends and has stopped letting her disability prevent her from reaching her potential. She has gained the support of many friends and family members who have encouraged her to try her hardest and excel at any activity she sets her mind to.
Lee-Park’s experience in isolation led her to volunteer with children that struggle with some of the same issues she was dealing with.
Making her way through the rehab center, she sees the immense potential that the children have and hopes she can help them become more expressive individuals. For these kids, being more socially integrated into conversations and learning to communicate effectively with others is something they hope to accomplish.
“I like helping people who don’t have it as well as I do,” Lee-Park said. “ They just haven’t gotten the chance to actually express themselves because having autism or Asperger’s can make it hard to express who you really are and what your interests are because they find it harder to communicate to people.”
Lee-Park started volunteering at a young age, occasionally accompanied by her sister. Isabel has gotten the chance to work closely with her sister in aiding the kids at the program. She watches Sophie learn from her experiences volunteering and sees those lessons applied to her life more and more every day.
“I think she’s learned to make friends from volunteering and she’s also learned to become more socially and physically a part of people’s lives in some way and make their lives better,” Isabel said.
In her past, Lee-Park started to doubt herself as she was always introverted and hidden in the background. Many of her accomplishments have had to do with overcoming internal conflicts like her timidness. Overcoming this obstacle meant learning how to step out of her comfort zone. She became proud of herself and learned that she can break away from the various stereotypes that are associated with her disability.
“I’ve always been told you have to exceed your classmates, and to make your teachers believe that you’re just like the other kids,” she said. “You don’t have to be in a certain class just because of your physical presence. That has shaped me as a person.”
Kortnie Cruz, Lee-Park’s English teacher, notices the immense progress Sophie has made in class, especially when voicing her opinion.
“She’s good about that, in her small groups and in the whole class conversation,” Cruz said. “Sometimes she’s a little more reserved, depending on the topic, but I think that she isn’t afraid to share her thoughts and she wants them to be heard.”
Dealing with this condition certainly has not stopped her from striving toward greater things.
Lee-Park was surprised when she received the Soroptimist award at an eighth-grade awards ceremony.
The organization she received the award from was Soroptimist. The Soroptimist organization has the goal of improving social and economic empowerment for women by giving grants to eligible women.
“It is a women organization who award girls who stand out in any way,” said Lee-Park. “I didn’t think I stood out, I was like what the hay. Apparently, they thought I was really cool and a lot of my teachers wrote really good comments about me for the award.”
Lee-Park continues to educate others about becoming more comfortable with who they are in hopes of helping them feel more socially integrated into conversations.
“Don’t let how others perceive you determine your ability and try to be yourself,” said Lee-Park. “Put your heart into everything you do.”