By Jan Hatchard, Director of Development
Although you may not know Steve Soriano by name, chances are you’ve seen him making his way around the Island in his wheelchair, or had the pleasure of sharing a conversation with him while riding the VTA bus. If you’ve had that pleasure, chances are what you most remember is his wide, engaging smile. If you are lucky, during your encounter, you were treated to a bit of his amazingly positive perspective on life.
Born with Cerebral Palsy, Steve describes himself as a ‘very determined kid’ who went to ‘regular’ junior and senior high school. He was still walking in those days and recounts that his biggest challenge was getting from one class to another in the time allotted. With his characteristic determination, he negotiated an additional five minutes to make his way from one class to another and as he reports, “It worked out great!”
Like so many ‘wash-a-shore’ Vineyarders, Steve fell in love with the Island long before he made the move to live here full time. He first visited the Island as a camper at Jabberwocky. Through that camping experience, he became the first employee of Chilmark Chocolates in 1985.
For many years, Steve traveled to the Island each Friday, then worked Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Chilmark Chocolates, and traveled back home to Braintree on Sunday. Eventually he added four weeks of vacation – two weeks in the beginning of the year and two in the fall. Somewhere along the line, Steve glimpsed a dream of a life he wanted to pursue, and although it took a rather extraordinary effort, he refused to give up until his dream of a full-time life on the Island came true. He credits Martha’s Vineyard Community Services with helping him make that happen.
For Steve, independent living began in 1990 when he moved out of his mother’s home and into his own apartment in Braintree, MA. Later, when he began to think about a move to the Island, he called upon a trusted counselor there to help him evaluate the idea. She placed a call to Martha’s Vineyard Community Services to find out what assistance would be available. With the assurance of the necessary counseling, employment, and homemaker services in place, Steve added his name to the waiting list for housing and began a wait that stretched over nearly five years. Finally, the call came that he had a home waiting at Hillside Village.
Once, he was settled here, Steve worked with Chip Bergeron and Kendra Yale of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services Island Employment Services program to find the perfect job for him. Now, every week day, Steve boards the bus for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School where he sorts and delivers all of the mail. He credits Chip and Kendra, “They helped me learn the job and still support me today when I need it.”
When asked about Steve’s role at the school, Principal Peg Regan responded, “I call Steve our standard bearer for happiness. He has only good days. Every room he enters lights up.”
Steve’s high school supervisor, Carol Whitmarsh, shares that Steve is much beloved by the entire high school community. She adds, “Steve brings a lot of joy in to the school. He has the most wonderful attitude. We could all learn from him.”
Once a week, Steve sees a counselor at the MVCS Island Counseling Center. He comments, “I sometimes have trouble expressing my thoughts and feelings, and once in a while, I would get everything all bottled up inside. So, I see my counselor once a week and we just sit and talk. I urge people who need services to come and see what Community Services has to offer. Don’t be bashful. It took me a long time to realize that I needed to talk with someone. I was in denial. After I realized I needed to talk to a counselor, I felt like a 100 lb weight was lifted off my shoulders. I was able to release all of my thoughts that I needed to get out. It has helped a lot.“
Today, Steve is proud of his home at Hillside where he carefully tends his yard and keeps his bird feeders filled with seed. Other than his ongoing battle with wild turkeys (over grass seed!) he loves the life he has created here. In his words, “I’m very content and happy with what I have. I don’t think I’m missing anything in my life. I have a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, and I live in a great community. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
“Martha’s Vineyard is wonderful. Everybody is so nice and I feel so safe because it seems like everybody knows each other.” He jokes, “I hear other people complaining and I say, ‘What are you complaining about? You live on Martha’s Vineyard!’”