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Meet Employee Kim Theno, with a family history of disability advocacy 


Kim Theno is Independence First’s Fund Development/Grants Administrator. Her responsibilities include grant writing and management, and providing support for larger fundraising activities. 

When asked about her favorite parts of working for IF she responded, “My favorite thing about working for Independence First is the approach to achieving the mission to empower individuals with disabilities.” 

She continues, “I love the Independent Living Philosophy, and how all of our services put care-recipient’s choices first—we exist to ‘help people make their own decisions and have control over their own lives. It’s about the right to succeed and the right to fail.’ In one of the new employee orientation sessions, our Director of Independent Living Services Gerald Hay, used the term dignity of risk. That was such an aha moment for me. 

“I also love that advocacy is considered a core service at Independence First. We stand for our mission and the people we serve by proactively educating decision makers and informing public policy decisions that impact people with disabilities. I believe this is vital to creating true social change in our communities.” 

Kim has a family connection to advocacy and disability rights. Her Aunt Karen, born in the 1950s, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Multiple Sclerosis in her mid-twenties. Kim shares, “My aunt had always been active in advocacy groups and was an especially strong advocate of women’s rights. But, her passion for social change eventually grew to more specifically include disability rights. By her late-30s, due to her illness, Karen was no longer able to drive her hand-controlled car or use her wheelchair. Despite being unable to leave her bed, she continued her advocacy efforts while pursuing a doctoral degree in Psychology. She completed her coursework but was unable to complete her dissertation and earn her PhD before she passed away in February 1993. Her alma mater, however, honored her determination and contribution to the field with the Karen Conlan Special Achievement Award posthumously at the convocation later that year.” 

When asked how her aunt’s fight for civil rights affected her, she replied, “It’s interesting because I don’t think anyone in my family ever considered that my Aunt Karen would not keep working toward her goals, even as she faced significant obstacles. She was absolutely valued and supported in her decisions to make a difference and achieve her dreams throughout her life. Expectations were not diminished. 

“Additionally, my grandmother (on the other side of my family) had paraplegia, and lived in her own home until she was in her 70s. She raised 12 children, who, as adults, helped her maintain her independence. So, in many ways, my exposure to the Independent Living Philosophy began as a child—even though I didn’t realize it at the time!”