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10 Questions with ... the always smiling Aida Gonzales

If you’re having a bad day, there’s someone you should meet. It’s Aida Gonzales. She’s a UCPCC instructor and driver who works at The Nest, UCPCC’s center for seniors with disabilities.

Aida is dedicated to UCPCC’s mission. She is the employee who looks for creative ways to inspire students to meet their goals. Aida’s positive attitude is always on display. There’s no way you can be in a bad mood when you’re spending time with Aida.

We asked Aida 10 questions to learn more about who she is and what inspires her – even important questions like “pancakes or waffles?” And here’s what she had to say:

How did you come to be employed at UCPCC?

Let me tell you the scoop. I was at the house of a mutual friend’s of Kelly Cunningham’s (UCPCC’s director of adult programs). Kelly saw artwork that I did for one of my friends and she thought I’d be good for the art department. She asked me to apply and I said, “OK.” I had no idea about UCP.

How long have you worked at UCPCC?

I started in 2002 at Arts and Technology (UCPCC’s main center for adults with disabilities). I went away to work for the post office for three months but came back. Initially it was supposed to be part time but then it went full time and I said, ‘OK!’ My thing has always been whatever benefits UCP.

What would you like people to know about UCPCC?

It’s a great place to not only learn about people with disabilities but to learn a lot about yourself.

In junior high and high school, I got “most shy” and “great smile.” But that’s just because I grin a lot. My siblings never thought I’d be in this kind of environment. I was such an angry kid. You would think I had autism all the time because I was so angry. But working with the students they allowed me to be me. They allowed me to open up and come out of my shell to be as goofy and silly and crazy and not be judged by it. Most people wouldn’t think I have attention deficit disorder because I was always quiet and not “out there,” and that could also be because I’m a middle child. With our students, I can just be me. I can be as open with them and I think they appreciate that too. They are like family to me. They let me be me and I definitely let them be them. It’s really helped me understand different perspectives of other people’s lives.

What - or who - inspires you?

My family. One of my nieces, especially. She’s 16. She was born with a physical issue. The fact that she was able to overcome that issue with the help of her doctors, she’s been a miracle to us. She helped me grow back in my own faith. She inspires me to live. She has always faced anything and come out with a smile on her face. How do you do that? She has so much to live for …. I wanna feel that happy. I also love our students. I miss them. Everyone can treat their work as a regular job, but when I can joke with them and we laugh at our miseries, it brings us closer. It lets us know that we get each other.

If you could take our students on a road trip, where would you go and why?

I would take them to San Antonio, Texas. One of the previous counselors told me they have a theme park for disabled people there (Morgan’s Wonderland). It would be awesome to get them on roller coasters and rides, doing something they would never do. Some of them are thrill-seekers - they want to go to skateparks and get on the ramps … because they live vicariously through other people.

What do you like to do when you’re not working at UCPCC?

I like working with tools and gadgets. I’m currently trying to create a couple of things, woodworking stuff. If not that then I’m with my nieces and I take them to the stores and buy a bunch of crafts and do that at home.

What’s your favorite activity to do with UCPCC students and why?

I like doing art with them, especially because one of the things I do is try to inspire them on things they think they can’t do and I show them otherwise. The look on their faces what they create something is just awesome. Also just having conversations with them.

What’s been the best thing about the pandemic?

I think the best thing for me has been when it came down to doing classes - mobile classes - getting to know our students even more. … Because you do get that one-on-one and you learn to appreciate each other more. I had one student who would go to the computers every day (when The Nest was open). Now every time I get to his house, he waits for me outside and yells my name out. We have this huge bond that’s grown between us.

When programs open again, will you do anything different with the students when they’re able to return?

I’ve always been the cough police: Go wash your hands! We’ll continue to keep an eye on safety. I would have to learn to keep my hands to myself: I love hugging them and I think that’s something all humans need but until things get better we’ll have to keep hands off.

Waffles or pancakes?

Pancakes. I’ve always loved pancakes. It’s like cake – you can eat it any time of the day.

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