The Laurita Spina Bifida Project to launch at Hispanicize 2016

Why, yes. It has indeed been a while.

Mea culpa. I may not have been fully “present” on Holdin’ Out for a Hero, but please rest assured…incredible things have been happening behind the scenes– miracles, actually!

Today, after 19 years of wishing, learning, waiting, and hoping, after years of prayers, all answered, not all in the way I anticipated, after much hard work and informal advocacy, it’s happening.

My non-profit organization, The Laurita Spina Bifida Project, is launching today during Hispanicize 2016– in Miami, no less.

Don’t pinch me, please. I don’t want to wake up!

It’s been a long time coming. I mean, really. I remember growing up thinking that starting any kind of organization– for-profit or non-profit– required wealth, and lots of it.

I remember wondering why I wasn’t rich and able to fulfill my dream.

I remember writing my first letter to Oprah Winfrey, and pouring my heart into it, asking her to shoot an episode about spina bifida. And I remember very clearly the polite “no, thank you” letter I received from The Oprah Winfrey Show– at age eleven.

Sometimes I wonder why I just didn’t give up and pursue a different path. I believe anyone with spina bifida can be just about anything within some reason. I could have done anything.

Instead, I chose the road less traveled. The one that hadn’t been trodden before– the one I had to pave myself.

But I haven’t walked it alone. Oh, no. There have been angels. Dozens, hundreds, perhaps thousands of them. And they carried me on their wings whenever I was too exhausted, too angry, too bitter from the failed efforts to keep flying.

It is now that I realize it. My “failures” weren’t failures at all– they were practice; my boot camp. With teachers, mentors, trainers, fellow advocates, cheerleaders, I worked through these failures and got up again.

My initial vision was to host a launch event at a restaurant in Orlando, close to where I live. Instead, I am in the heart of Downtown Miami, surrounded by fellow bloggers, journalists, entertainers, photographers, marketers, and seasoned non-profit industry veterans. Many of these are people I call very close friends.

In retrospect, I cannot imagine launching my precious childhood dream anywhere else, surrounded by so many of the people who are actually helping to make it happen!

Today, as I prepare to meet friends, family, and colleagues for Happy Hour at Toro Toro Miami and our extended community on Twitter at 5:00 p.m., I’m sure we’ll have a lot of last-minute details to think of.

As for me, I’ll also be reflecting on everyone, everything, every incredible moment that has brought me– us– here.

Today, I finally know it was all for good.

Please join us today on Twitter using the hashtags #TheLSBProject and #SpinaBifida (#EspinaBífida para español, también). Be sure to RSVP here to be eligible to win some awesome prizes!

And if you’d like to contribute to our crowdfunding campaign, that’s here.

To see the fabulous press release that my friends and colleagues at Hispanicize Wire published about our launch, please click here.

 

Till tonight! And…thank you. 

Love,

Laurita

Your Shoes are Killing Me

 

One of the definitive moments of the feature film, “Sex and the City,” shows protagonist Carrie Bradshaw entering the large closet of her would-be new apartment. As the lights flicker on, she takes in the size of it (really, it’s ginormous) and imagines all of the designer shoes she will fill it with.

I cringe whenever I watch that scene, as much as I love that film (can you say, “guilty pleasure”?).

Because I would never find enough “sexy” shoes to fill that closet with, even if I could afford them all.

Because the shoe industry has neglected to make shoes for women like me. Women with small feet. Women with spina bifida

For me, an assertive invitation of “Let’s go shoe shopping” from Mami evokes feelings of being a lamb dragged off to the slaughterhouse.

I’ve been that girl— the one who has broken down in the size 5 aisle of Payless, or many a shoe store. Because they don’t carry anything smaller for me

Indeed, some of my cutest “girly” shoes are in children’s sizes. And yes, they’re flats

I can’t wear heels unless they are even. None of those stiletto-style heels or wedges— even the shortest heels will have me teetering off-balance within seconds of standing.

 

Shoes

One of the few pairs of shoes in my closet that have short heels. I wore this outfit to a vintage-themed event. When I posted this as my profile pic a while back, I received compliments on my cute pose. Little does anyone probably realize I am grasping at the tree to keep from stumbling.

 

As I visit shopping malls and see signs indicating accessible entrances and restrooms, and ramps conveniently placed across from accessible parking areas, I am reminded of how far we’ve come as a society that is striving to welcome people with spina bifida and other disorders.

As I scour the ladies’ footwear section of any major department store, I am cruelly reminded of how far we still need to go. 

Indeed, I think my gender makes things worse for me as a shoe consumer. Men can get away with wearing more comfortable shoes, and even dress shoes don’t have heels. In fact, they could probably get away with wearing the same pair of shoes for a week straight, and no one would be the wiser.

The entire culture of being a woman in the 21st century is centered around footwear. “I don’t know if I have shoes that will match this outfit!” “Let’s go shoe shopping this weekend.” “Oh, my shoes are killing me, and I didn’t bring rescue shoes.” 

Guess what? Your “rescue shoes” are what I would wear to a social function. For me, there is no such thing as rescue shoes, because I cannot wear the shoes you need so badly to be rescued from. 

I can recall so many occasions on which I’ve attended parties with girlfriends. Near the end of the night, they are complaining about their shoes. “God, my shoes are KILLING me, Laurita! You are so lucky you get to use that wheelchair. Can I borrow it?”

No, you may not borrow my chair, because it is not a one-time deal. With this wheelchair, (which I use often for events, especially when I have to resort to wearing uncomfortable boots to match an outfit) comes a lifetime of regret. A lifetime of envy, resentment, and anger, because I cannot wear the shoes that are killing you right now. Because I wasn’t granted the luxury of being able to wear strappy heels that I will remove in less than two hours to dance barefoot on the dance floor after my feet have blistered.

Because as much as I hate to admit it, especially to myself, I LOVE the shoes that every woman loves— the strappy, shiny heels that you seem to glide effortlessly in, while I stumble clumsily in my flat boots.

Because Fate long ago decided that I do not get to live the Carrie Bradshaw fantasy for one lousy night, because that’s life.

Oh, your shoes are killing you? Then by all means, be my guest and remove them. You know what? They’re killing me, too. 

Social Good at Hispanicize 2014: Be the Change

Hispanicize 2014 took place in Miami from April 1st through 4th, and this year, the organizers stepped it up by demonstrating that philanthropy is alive and well within the Latino community and beyond.

On March 31st, I attended Social Media for Social Good Training for Non-Profits Serving Latino & Multicultural Communities, a half-day, pre-conference event, sponsored by Florida Blue and open to professionals involved with nonprofit organizations.

 

Nonprofit_training

 

The presenters were Alex de Carvalho, founder of Social Media Club of South Florida, as well as Regional Development Director at Constant Contact; Katherine Doble, publisher of Los Tweens and Teens and president of Siren Marketing; and Maricela Cueva, vice president of VPE PR.

The topics covered ranged from strategies for E-mail marketing to the most effective platforms and methods for engaging potential cause supporters using social media.

I personally found the training interesting and engaging, and it was packed with lots of resources for nonprofits and individuals alike.

 

 Yoani_Latinovator

For this cause blogger, one of the most awesome moments of the conference was witnessing Cuban bloguera Yoani Sánchez receive a Latinovator award for her courage and relentlessness in informing the global public on what is going on in Cuba.

The writer and activist has been arrested several times, even beaten, for speaking up.

I was honored and privileged to have the opportunity to meet her last year, when she came to Orlando to speak at my alma mater, Valencia College. After she was interviewed at the Latinovator Luncheon, I got to attend the press conference and ask her a question! What an amazing opportunity. I was thrilled. :)

Yoani_y_yo

I couldn’t believe that Yoani Sánchez remembered me from the Valencia event! I imagine she meets hundreds of new people every week. 

Attending the Positive Impact Awards was yet another amazing opportunity to see social good up, close, and personal. It was also a wonderful time to pay tribute to many awesome Latinos who are making a huge difference in our communities– and in the world.

Manny_y_yo_PIA

I’m very proud to know Hispanicize Founder & CEO Manny Ruiz, and call him mi hermano. Congrats, Manny, on being given the key to the city of Miami!

By far, one of the most emotional moments during the Positive Impact Awards was seeing Hispanicize’s own Founder & CEO, Manny Ruiz, be surprised onstage by being presented with the key to the city of Miami by none other than the Mayor of the City of Miami, Tomás P. Regalado.

I actually had tears in my eyes, watching Manny choke up as he thanked everyone for their support. 😉

Manny_key_city

Manny Ruiz gets emotional upon being awarded the key to the City of Miami. Love it!

Even early on in the evening, on the red carpet, I was able to say hello to a few familiar faces…including this one:

EdwardJamesOlmos_and_Me

Oh, you know, just hanging out with my friend Edward James Olmos! 

I was so thrilled that actor Edward James Olmos remembered me from last year, when I attended the premiere of “Filly Brown” during Hispanicize! Eeek!

But that wasn’t my only “geek-out” moment of the night. For reals. Yolanda Pagán, whose late husband Louis Pagán inspired the Positive Impact Awards, and I sort of improvised and tag-teamed that evening during the red carpet. It was a really sweet moment as I watched her glide gracefully from interview to interview and from photo op to photo op! Yoli and I have become very close friends ever since we met during Hispanicize last year, and I felt Blessed and honored to witness this shining moment for her.

Well, Yoli came over to me during the red carpet madness, and straight-up told me:

Maria Hinojosa wants to meet you.”

Jaw. Drops. On. Floor. 

“What!?” I gasped. 

“Maria Hinojosa,” Yoli repeated. “She wants to meet you.”

“Why?” I muttered breathlessly. 

“Are you seriously asking that question?” Yoli countered. 

Well…yes I am!  But, no matter. When veteran, award-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa asks to meet you, you ask when and where! 

So, I dashed over to where Maria Hinojosa was being photographed and fawned over. Then, she notices me.

Then, she addresses me.

She said she really wanted to meet me, and that I was an amazing blogger or something like that, but, truth be told, as is the cruel irony in most situations that you should have been taping– I remember very little of what was actually said because of how shocked I was. Understandably. 

But I do recall the million-dollar-moment, as I was basking in my 30 seconds of glory, Yoli watching me the entire time with a huge grin on her face. 

Manny walked over to us (to formally introduce me to Maria, I imagine) and puts his hand on my shoulder and says to Maria (I mean, are we on first-name-basis now!?):

“Laurita is one of the best bloggers in the country.” By this point, I’m fighting back the tears. 

And then Maria totally says, pointedly, to Manny: 

“I know! That’s why I wanted to meet her!” 

By then, whether I was still breathing was questionable. I think I had a pulse, though, because my heart was racing.

MariaHinojosa_y_yo

Maria and me. New besties? Here’s hoping! 😉 

George_Yoli_Manny

George Torres, founder of the Positive Impact Awards, Yolanda “Yoli” Pagán, wife of Louis Pagán, and Manny Ruiz pay tribute to Louis’ legacy. (Doesn’t she look stunning?)

PIA_winners

Some of the Positive Impact Awards honorees share their moment of triumph onstage. 

I fear I’ve already made this post too long, but I have to share about the panel I spoke on, on Friday! My dear friend and hermano, George Torres, a.k.a., “Urban Jíbaro,” asked me to speak on a panel titled “Hispanic Social Media for Social Good: Corporate Best Practices.”

SocialGoodPanel

(From left to right): Stephen Chávez, founder of Latino Foodie, moderated the #SocialGood panel, which featured George “Urban Jíbaro” Torres, founder of Sofrito Media Group, and Sofrifo for Your Soul, Steven Sánchez, Global Corporate Communications Manager for 3M, Sonia Díaz of Balsera Communications, and me. 

I have been fortunate to be a part of several dynamic panel discussions these past few years, and this one was no exception! Despite being the last day of the conference, and people showing up– *ahem*– at “Latino time” (there were parties every night!), I feel we had an amazing chemistry among our group, and we were able to engage with our audience members.

The best part was being able to tell my story, and hearing everyone else’s personal journeys through social good! I’ll be honest– I came away from this panel learning a lot! 

YoliYyo

With Yolanda “Yoli” Pagán, who is now one of BFFs! I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your support, encouragement, and many pep talks before and during Hispanicize! 😉


Girlfriends

With my longtime amiga, Alsy Acevedo of Catholic Relief Services, Anadel Alberti of Lanugo, and Yoli. Thanks so much, ladies, for supporting me and attending my panel! 😉

Later that day, after I recovered my nerves from speaking, I ran into Matt Wallaert, a behavioral scientist who works with Bing. He wanted to talk to me and introduce me to a group of young students with ASPIRA of Florida that he brought to Hispanicize, so that I could encourage them. Needless to say, I was at a total loss as to what to say to these kids! I have no idea how to foster and nurture young minds; I don’t know what you’re supposed to say to encourage them!

Well, when I saw Matt and a young friend of his, Chantal, they told me that they had attended my panel and that it was great! Matt had walked in with his group of students to watch/hear us! I was so incredibly moved by their show of support, and I realized that, when it comes to the next generation, all you have to really do is be there for them.

The week of Hispanicize was both too long and too fast. There were so many things I would have liked to do but didn’t have the time or energy to do. There’s just so much! That’s why I’m dedicating several posts, here, on Espresso con Leche, and on my hypeorlando blog, to covering everything I can.

By far, the most inspiring and uplifting moments of Hispanicize this year were the ones related to social good. Of course, it feels great to give, and it also feels wonderful to connect with others who are passionate about philanthropy within the social media space.

The best part of using social media for social good is that “the buck doesn’t stop here.” The donation or Tweet that you make, the photo you instagram, the blog post you publish about a cause can have so many impressions and can be shared so many times. Social media knows no boundaries or limits. Social media exists so that we can push our stories out beyond the natural, physical scope of older media channels.

And this week, I got to connect and reconnect with so many others who feel passionate about doing just that!

A hearty shout-out to the following sponsors:

  • Florida Blue, who sponsored the Social Media for Social Good Training for Non-profits Serving Latino and Multicultural Communities training
  • 3M, who sponsored the Positive Impact Awards, this year’s signature event, in addition to sponsoring and participating on our panel, Hispanic Social Media for Social Good: Corporate Best Practices.
  • Toyota Latino for being my sponsor during Hispanicize, and for inviting me to sit at their table during the Positive Impact Awards! I have so much more content to share about you guys, but for now I’ll say that you have truly demonstrated your commitment to social good in every initiative and program you design for consumers. Thanks for taking me under your wings! 😉

 

 

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” 

–Mahatma Gandhi

–Laurita ♥

Join Me in Getting Covered #TakeCareChat

Disclosure: This post is part of a campaign with Ad Council and Get Covered America. I will be compensated for publishing this post and for participating in the Twitter chat. All ideas and opinions are my own. 

 

If there’s someone who truly understands the value of having good health insurance, it’s me– trust me. I certainly wouldn’t be here without the vigilant care of many good healthcare providers and nurses, and there were times in my childhood when I was literally in and out of the hospital every other week.

Sadly, more than 1 in 6 Americans don’t have health insurance.

This is mostly due to one of the following reasons:

  • They don’t receive coverage from their employer 
  • They cannot afford coverage
  • They were previously denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition

 

Under the new Affordable Care Act, people cannot be denied health coverage because of a preexisting condition.  This is fabulous news for me, having spina bifida and hydrocephalus! Thanks to the ACA, insurance companies can’t turn me away because of that. 

I feel very blessed and fortunate to have access to good healthcare, and I don’t wish to take that for granted for a single second. But, if you’re not willing to take my word for it, perhaps you’ll listen to this adorable menagerie of pets who have a message for you:

 

 

What’s more, most people will have to pay a fine if you don’t enroll in healthcare up by March 31st. The 2014 fine is $95 for an adult or 1% of a person’s income, whichever is greater. (The fine is $47.50 for a child, and a family can only be fined up to $285.)

I’ll be joining Ad Council and Get Covered America TOMORROW from 1 to 2 p.m. E.T. during a Twitter chat where you can learn more and ask questions about getting covered. Be sure to follow @GetCoveredUS on Twitter and Tweet using the hashtag #TakeCareChat to participate in the conversation!

 

Parrot

In the meantime, you can visit GetCoveredAmerica.org to find out how you can enroll in health insurance, and to get answers to some frequently asked questions about the process. There are also some pretty awesome tools on the site, like the Get Covered Calculator, which can help you discover how much assistance you could qualify for to help pay for your insurance coverage.

Figuring out how to navigate the ins and outs of the ACA can be daunting, especially since it’s so crucial to your health and to the health of your family. But with the proper tools and resources, you’ll be enrolling in no time– and hopefully by the deadline of March 31st!

 

–Laurita

The 2014 SoftRock Holiday Giving Gala #SRGiving

This past Saturday, I was invited by a new friend to attend the SoftRock Holiday Giving Gala at Tier Nightclub in Downtown Orlando! Samantha Weaver is senior writer for SoftRock, a media company that designs software and multimedia for businesses.

The premise of their Giving Gala was to invite guests– in exchange for a pledge to give time in volunteer hours for any charitable organization.

I love that concept. 

Indeed, for me, there is nothing better than encouraging employees to support a worthy cause, or even several!

So, when Samantha invited me to this event, I simply couldn’t resist. 😉

Mami was my plus-one at the gala, and we got the star treatment that night! We were picked up promptly by a car service and taken to Tier Nightclub, a trendy spot in Downtown Orlando.

Me_TownCar

I was really impressed to see so many plush, comfy sofas in a club setting! I wasn’t expecting that.

 

SamanthaWeaver_and_meWith Samantha Weaver, Senior Writer for SoftRock

I enjoyed drinks and tasty appetizers with Mami, and did a lot of people-watching!


MamiAndMe

Mami and me. :)
 

Me_phone

Caught live-Tweeting and instagramming! 
 
 
It was great to run into several friends– some of them from way back! 
 
LynnAndMe
 
With Lynn Hoppes, who now works with SoftRock, and who I met as Sports Editor when I was interning at Orlando Sentinel in college. 
 
 
JenAndMe
 
With my friend, Jen Vargas, of Central Florida Top 5
 
 
LadiesNight
With the ladies! Samantha, Jen, me, and Jeanette Scott of J’s Everyday Fashion
 
 
AlecDifrawi_and_me
 
With Alec Difrawi, Founder & CEO of SoftRock. 
 
 

I’m so glad I was invited out to the party, and even more excited to start the year off by taking a pledge to volunteer in my community!

Thanks, Samantha– and thanks SoftRock!

Laurita :)

 

Keeping Perspective: ‘Hero’ Spencer Day Twitter Chat a Success!

When you’re going through life, struggling to keep up with everything that’s going on with you, around you, it can be a real challenge sometimes to remember why you “do what you do.”
Three years and eight months ago, I had the opportunity to meet my new musical “idol,” contemporary jazz singer and songwriter, Spencer Day. I was simply overjoyed to meet him, and I honestly never thought much would happen after that.

 

DSC01390Spencer and me, enjoying a cup of coffee in NYC in August 2010. 

 

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Since our initial encounter in Clearwater for a jazz festival, after which we talked at length and I briefed him on my campaign for raising awareness of spina bifida, we have remained connected. He knows I’m moving forward, deciding what the next step will be for this cause, and he wants to be there to support it, in any way he can.

Several months ago, the opportunity arose for me to be involved in helping his career, by collaborating with his fan club and promoting events, music, and Spencer’s latest projects on different social media channels.

Out of all the work I’ve done thus far in my life– including past jobs– few things have been as rewarding for me as the experience of being a part of Spencer’s Fan Club Social Media Team. We started as a motley crew, an assortment of people who clearly share a common interest– an enthusiasm for Spencer Day’s music.

About a month ago, a crazy, random idea popped into my head: Hey, guys, why don’t we host a Twitter party for Spencer? 

It seemed like a harebrained project to take on, considering I’m always on the go, and everyone is busy during the holidays. But we decided to do it.

Yesterday evening, I hosted, along with Spencer as our guest of honor, a Twitter chat with many of Spencer’s biggest fans, in addition to quite a few people who are new to Spencer’s music. The conversation was lively, informal, and very funny at times! Attendees were encouraged to ask Spencer anything– and they did, and he responded. 😉 

As I sipped on my coffee (in my pajamas!) while trying to keep up with the conversation thread, I marveled that such an awesome cyber event could be pulled off in such a short window of time. I also couldn’t help but feel gratitude toward all of the people who participated– even if only for a few minutes during their busy evening.

As a social media consultant, the number of “impressions” or “pageviews” matters. It’s a measurement of quantifiable success, and it’s the most “tangible” evidence of whether or not an online event was a success.

As a person, however, I realized that shouldn’t matter to me. 

What mattered is that everywhere I looked in my Twitter feed, I could see familiar “faces,” avatars and usernames of my friends, some bloggers, some non-bloggers, who showed up in support of me– and in support of Spencer. 

We also got to reward some of Spencer’s fans and followers! We gave away 5 copies of Spencer’s latest album, “The Mystery of You,” as well as 6 digital copies of Spencer’s holiday album, “If Christmas Doesn’t Kill Me.” It was so rewarding to make people happy by sharing his music!

The report I generated afterwards showed that, in the past week, the hashtag #SpencerDay has had over 1.8 million impressions.  That’s not bad at all, considering how many holiday/Christmas parties, family gatherings, business events, and other commitments everyone has going on during this season, that make it difficult to participate in online events.

 

SpencerDayTwitterResults

 

For a social media consultant, those 1.8 million impressions are the definition of success. 

For me, however, it’s those familiar faces, the “avatars” I know so well, that made me feel like a winner. 

I’m truly blessed to have so many people who genuinely support and “get” what I do. Even my parents, who years ago found the words “blog” and “Tweet” intimidating, pitched in by Tweeting and making sure I had a hot mug of coffee to help me stay alert. 😉

Yes, it’s true– there are people who might measure success in different ways– by monetary earnings, job promotions, or how many conference speaking gigs they landed in a year.

That’s all good and enticing. (Hey, who wouldn’t want all that?!)

But sitting at my laptop, Tweeting furiously and watching as the stream flowed constantly with new comments, questions, and retweets from people both familiar and unfamiliar, I couldn’t help but feel like the luckiest girl in the world. 

Thank you, from the bottom of my grateful heart, to all of you who joined, shared, Tweeted, promoted, and encouraged. Thanks to all of you who had the most awesome things to say about Spencer’s music, whether it was the first song you’d heard or if you’ve been a longtime listener. 

Thanks for being there anytime I’ve wondered if I could do something. Thanks for lifting me up.

 

Thanks, above all, for helping me to keep my perspective.

 

If you aren’t already following Spencer, please do so here:

 

Spencer Day on Twitter 

Spencer Day on Facebook 

Spencer Day Fan Club on Twitter 

Spencer Day Fan Club on Facebook

 

 

Love,

Laurita ♥

5 Simple Ways to Help Someone Living with Spina Bifida / #GivingTuesday

 

Giving Tuesday

 

 

Today is Giving Tuesday, a movement for social good that is taking social media outlets by storm. 

Thousands and thousands of people are sharing ways in which we can all give back to great causes. 

I don’t wish to add to the cacophony of causes by asking you to donate to this or that. Instead, I want to give all of you — even those with limited funds some tips on how you can support a friend or loved one who has spina bifida, or who lives with someone who has spina bifida (caregivers need support, too!) 

So, read on for some musts and must-nots.

 

1. Don’t exclude us from social gatherings. 

I remember how painful it was growing up, and the teen years were just as awkward as my early years. It hurt me deeply when I found out some of my girlfriends were hanging out and choosing not to invite me. The reason? They thought I might bring my mom along. Although it wasn’t true at all, it still hurt. My so-called friends didn’t think I was independent enough to attend a social function on my own, without my parents at my side.

If you have a friend with spina bifida, ask them what hobbies or activities they enjoy. Invite him or her to your next outing. If you have any doubts as to what their capabilities or limitations are, ask, but never assume. 

 

 

2. Ask us for help or advice when you need it. 

Believe me. This can actually be one of the greatest gifts you will give someone with spina bifida. Many of us with spina bifida are so tired of being “helped” all the time, and many times people won’t approach us to ask a simple favor out of fear that we won’t be able to help, or we’re too “burdened” by our lives. That, if you ask me, is an even greater burden.

So, go ahead and ask! The worst possible thing we could say to you is “no.” 😉

You might even find that we have a lot to offer and give to others. 

 

 

3. Don’t tell us about every medical study you’ve read about pertaining to spina bifida! 

No, seriously. We don’t want to hear it. Especially if it involves the prevention of spina bifida, medical research is based on a lot of different variables, and while your intentions may be noble, mentioning something like this can sound like you’re trying to “fix us.” Most people with spina bifida go through countless surgeries and hospitalizations, and often have different therapies to learn to maximize their potential, physically. Many times, if there is a procedure we can benefit from, chances are it’s already making the rounds in online support forums for families with spina bifida!

 

 

4. Don’t tell us God will heal us, or that there’s a reason we have spina bifida. 

I’m a deeply religious and spiritual person, and I have my firm beliefs. I personally do believe things happen for a reason, but if you’re saying this to me after I tell you about spina bifida, you’ll come off like a total jerk. Does that mean God chose for me to deal with spina bifida? Maybe. Then again, there are a lot of great things in my life that have come from having spina bifida, and also, a lot of great things that don’t have absolutely anything to do with that.

Still, never put us on pedestals because of having spina bifida. That’s just…creepy. 

 

 

5. We’re not sheltered. You can talk to us about…anything. 

I don’t know where this crazy misconception was born that people with spina bifida aren’t exposed to certain things– like sex, alcohol, rock n’ roll, the rise and fall of Communism, and Miley’s infamous twerkfest. 

We’re human. We read the tabloids from time to time, usually in the bathroom, just like you do. 

And we also like to party. Hey, you can’t expect us to sit around and watch C-SPAN all day, right? (Fun as it sounds.) 

What’s more, many of us have graduated high school, or even college or grad school. We like to talk. And I love Google and Wikipedia! So, even if I don’t understand what you’re talking about, give me about 30 seconds with my phone to impress you. 😉

Oh, and we also have brag-worthy lives filled with riches and diamonds and yachts and filthy-rich-jetsetting, so make sure not to hog the entire conversation. 😉

 

 

Hopefully that sheds a little light on some basic things you can do to keep someone with spina bifida in your life. (Yes, we grow tired of being overlooked, just like you would!) The most important thing to remember is that our lives don’t revolve around having spina bifida. There are so many facets of our lives, and many of them are similar to yours. 

Also, like you, we hate twerking.

Happy Giving Tuesday!  

–Laurita ♥

Hispanicize 2013: When Sleep is Overrated #ToyotaLatino (Part 1)

On Sunday, I returned from one of the most awesome conferences– no, experiences–  I’ve ever had. I’d been at Hispanicize 2013 all week!

When I was first asked to moderate a panel at Hispanicize, my first thought was “Thanks for the invite, but how will I get there?

What I discovered, however, as I’ve said before on this blog, is that the journey is often just as important as the destination. 

What happened next is kind of a blur, but I know it involved contacting my good friend Javier Moreno of Toyota Latino, and asking him if sponsoring me would be possible, in exchange for promoting their brand in every which way.

After a few back-and-forth calls and E-mails, Javier made a proposal I’ll never forget– he asked me to be the official correspondent for Toyota Latino at Hispanicize! :)

So, all I had to do was prepare for a week of learning, Tweeting, Facebooking, interviewing and photographing some of the biggest stars in the Latino community. Oh yeah– I also had to overpack. I can never travel light! 

 

 With Donna and David of Central Florida Toyota. They were kind enough to drop off the 2013 Toyota Sienna LE we used this past week. My family enjoyed great conversation with them! 

 

The Sienna had great trunk space for all our luggage, plus my wheelchair! 

 

 My very good friend Alberto Saldamando, of El Mundo Tech, rode with us to Miami. What a fun road trip! 

 

 Papi is an awesome driver. Very focused. Don’t try to small-talk him when he’s scanning the roads for the exit. 😉
 

I’m so perfectly content riding in the backseat. Plenty of room to relax, open up my laptop and monitor my social media outlets. No time for napping! Too excited. :)

 

View of the console from the backseat. Very nice! Thanks for including a GPS, too, although the family that gets lost together, stays together. :) 
As comfortable as I was in the Sienna during our four-hour drive (only one stop, thank God!), I was eager to arrive in Miami for my first event. Sherwin-Williams invited several bloggers and journalists to go on a tour of the Downtown Miami Art District

The #SWpintura tour not only offered our group a night out on the town of food, drinks, and seeing Downtown Miami– we got to see a side of Miami that I, personally had never seen before. 

The Miami Design District is the kind of area that, as they say, “blink and you’ll miss it.” At first glance, the graffiti-covered walls and industrial buildings seem to belie the pure genius that is contained in its parameters. But, a closer look reveals gorgeous, elaborate murals painted by upstanding artists, many of whom are Latino.

The Tour also allowed me to meet Sonia Velasquez and Teresa Correa for the first time.

Sonia Velasquez is the host of Extreme Makeover Home Edition: Latin America, a model, and has produced and been host of many other TV programs. She is also a staunch activist for HIV/AIDS and domestic violence-related causes. In short– she is a force for good and a true agent of positive change. 

 

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Photo Courtesy of SoniaVelasquez.com
 

When I met Sonia, I honestly didn’t expect her to be so disarming and down-to-earth.  I was standing (okay, sitting in my wheelchair) near her with my Mami as she chatted with my good friend Pili Montilla (*AHEM* another star with a huge heart!). I didn’t want to interrupt their conversation, but suddenly, Sonia glances toward me and yells…

 

LAURITA!!!”

 

I. Kid. You. Not.

 

Here I was, freaking out because on Saturday, a woman who I thought did not know me from Eve was going to speak on my “Blogs with a Cause” panel, and I thought, “no way we will have a chance to really connect by then.”

Here she was, totally blurting out my name and running over to hug and kiss me like we’ve known each other for ages. EPIC. 

 

With Sonia Velasquez of Extreme Makeover Home Edition: Latin America. This woman has captured my heart with her love for serving others!

With Sonia Velasquez of Extreme Makeover Home Edition: Latin America. This woman has captured my heart with her love for serving others!

 

 Sonia, me, and the fabulous Pili Montilla. Don’t mess with us! 😉

 

Soon, we left for the tour on a charter bus. I really didn’t expect to learn so much about the history– the good, the bad, the ugly, the pretty– of Miami on this tour. But our tour guide, artist and radio personality Susana Baker, provided us with a vast wealth of information that most of us– even born and bred Miamians– didn’t know about!

The Downtown Miami Design District is very “blink-and-you-miss-it,” and you will miss out on some stunning, cutting-edge sights if you don’t have your camera ready during the ride.

 

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I actually met Teresa during the tour, on our first art gallery stop. Meeting one of my panelists for Saturday was priceless. She and I had only recently connected on social media, but it felt like meeting a family member for the first time.

 

With Teresa Correa, Founder of La Femme Latina and Head of Ambassadors Program for Red Shoe Movement 

 

During this amazing, very-thorough tour of the art galleries, we got to see works of art created by Latino masterminds that were fun, poignant, and political. We saw social commentaries embodied in a pile of clothes or created in clay. We saw photographs that epitomized the history of the Cuban people of Miami.

 

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“Follow the Leader” by artist Guerra de la Paz. 

After visiting several awesome art galleries with mind-blowing installations, The Sherwin-Williams group treated us to dinner at the chic, bohemian Mexican Restaurant, “Mercadito.”

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 One of the coolest people I met this past week– Joe Ramírez, President of Attenta Group,  who represented Sherwin-Williams. 

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I must give a *lot* of credit to Lillian Ayala of Vanguard Comm, who took great care of all the guests. She actually called me up when I was still in Orlando and we had a great conversation!

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This should be a work of art itself! My beautiful family– and forever my “plus-ones.” 😉  

 


I will be posting plenty of photos on my Holdin’ Out for a Hero and Espresso con Leche pages. I’ll also be posting more details on here, and on Espresso con Leche. Stay tuned! 

I’m Catching a Ride to #Hispz13 with #ToyotaLatino!

 

Yes, it’s true. Once again, I’m heading to the Hispanicize conference in Miami! Only this time, *I’m shifting gears* and “catching a ride” with my friends over at Toyota.

Although this will be my very first time partnering with Toyota for anything, I daresay we’re both entering uncharted territory here. As their first blogger sponsoree, I’ll be setting a precedent for future bloguer@s interested in partnering with this amazing automotive brand.

 

 

My assignment: to be the official correspondent for Toyota during Hispanicize! Oh em gee!  

I’m unbelievably excited about this opportunity, and my mission is to meet and interact with as many people as I can during the week, to find out what they’re up to, and also to share with attendees my experience traveling to the event in a Toyota vehicle (which will be announced later!).

Of course, the second part of my mission is to absorb as much Miami culture as I can, because I love that city. I wish I could live much closer to a town with such a flair for all things Latino. So, I will be doing my part to share with you as much as I can of the sights, smells, sounds, and flavors of Miami! To get the full experience, please be sure to stop by my other blog, Espresso con Leche, where I’ll be elaborating on my culinary, musical, and all-things-cultural perspective of Miami!

Also, during the conference, I’ll be Tweeting from two Twitter accounts: @Laurita86 and @EspressoYLeche, and I’ll be using the hashtags #Hispz13 and #ToyotaLatino. And…don’t forget to follow my friends over at @ToyotaLatino on Twitter, and to “like” them on Facebook

I want to give a very special shout-out and gracias to Janice Lusky Greenspan of PRecise Communications, and to my dear, longtime amigo, Javier Moreno, for making this all possible. 

I also owe an overwhelming amount of gratitude to Hispanicize founder and CEO Manny Ruiz, who invited me to moderate a session called: “Blogs with a Cause: Meet the Bloggers Devoted to Social Good” panel on Saturday!

I’ll have the honor of introducing some amazing movers and shakers in the social media sphere:

I simply cannot say enough about these women to actually do justice to their labors of love. You’ll just have to wait until Saturday. 😉

Above all, I need to thank Godseriously. You have Blessed me so richly and abundantly, more than I could ever possibly deserve or imagine!

To all of my friends looking forward to learning more about entertainment, technology, social media, and marketing– ¡nos vemos in Miami!

 

😉  Laurita