When Constantine Madias was attending The Ohio State University, he felt a divide between students with disabilities and the rest of the student population.
“I knew my peers viewed me differently, and it greatly affected my self-perception and self-esteem,” says Madias, who was born with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that affects a person’s motor skills, movements and muscle tone. While the Lyndhurst native had similar experiences growing up, he says assimilating to campus life was the most difficult challenge of his academic career.
As a college graduate, Madias’ feelings have grown and changed. “Cerebral palsy has become my best friend by adding perspective to every unfortunate situation in the form of a reminder that I have been through worse,” he says. “It used to be my worst enemy, specifically socially, until I found myself in graduate school at John Carroll University.”
A leadership capstone course at John Carroll inspired Madias to think about how he can help students with disabilities on college campuses. This led to the creation of Leaders for the Educational Advancement of Disabled Students (LEADS), a mentorship program promoting postsecondary education and career advancement for students with disabilities in local middle and high schools. Through in-person seminars and contact outside the classroom, mentors will rotate through Cleveland schools to guide students through life lessons and prepare them for an upward trajectory beyond high school.
Looking ahead, Madias hopes to take LEADS one step further and establish ambassadors (fellow students) on college campuses to receive incoming freshman and serve as a bridge for those students to continue their ambitions. The program’s goal is to educate and encourage an underrepresented demographic to continue moving forward and following their dreams.
“Every disabled child already feels different, but without the presence of influencers to build and maintain their confidence, they begin to feel inferior,” Madias says. “Life presents everyone with unique challenges. Our happiness and well-being is dependent upon how we react to and sometimes overcome these situations to better ourselves.”
Madias is quick to point out that his accomplishments couldn’t have happened without “having the family and supporting cast that have kept his dreams alive and effectively staved off the crippling mindset of incapability.” He acknowledges that “most kids in similar situations are not nearly as lucky.” Madias hopes LEADS can step in and show students positive influencers and mentors who will become their supporting cast and help them achieve success.
On Feb. 27, Madias will compete alongside 27 others who will pitch their civic visions at the Cleveland Leadership Center’s “Accelerate 2019: Citizens Make Change” contest. Accelerate is a pitch competition that helps individuals launch their ideas to make Northeast Ohio a better place to live, work and play. Six finalists will win up to $5,000 to help advance their ideas, like WISH Cleveland founder Pam Turos, who was a finalist in 2016.
This is not Madias’ first pitch, as he also participated in Accelerate 2017. When asked what is different this time around, he says the “concept and overall mission of the idea is the exact same – but my approach will be different. The pitch has become much more refined after identifying the areas of disconnect from 2017. The judges should have a much clearer indication of the problem and its significance, how I hope to change it and why this means so much to me.”
This year’s Accelerate contestants have a wide range of ideas and visions for Northeast Ohio. Madias will compete against Diane Mastnardo of BAAM, which hopes to teach Cleveland area children four self-care techniques (breathing, aromatherapy, acupressure and movement – BAAM) in 5-minute increments during the school day. Another pitch includes Youth Voice founders Patrick Hackett and Jack Lupica, who hope to teach Cleveland area youth to dialogue with those in the community through podcasting. Take a look at all the full list of potential projects and find out information about tickets for this event here.
We wish Madias and all the other contestants luck as they pitch their ideas. Please stop by the WISH alumni table at Accelerate and say hello.
FEATURE IMAGE: Constantine Madias, left, presents his pitch during Accelerate 2017. Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Leadership Center.