Marybel Rodriguez says Ashley Prats is making a big impact on the local non-profit organization by volunteering her time to help differently-abled adults.
- And now to this week's all new Miami Proud. It focuses on an outstanding team volunteer. Her time over the past years with adults of varying degrees of disability is a study in inclusiveness. The teen's work at the Wow Center has made an impact within and outside the organization.
MARYBEL RODRIGUEZ: Ashley Prats first started coming to volunteer at the Wow Center in Kendall as a 12-year-old. Her aunt was a speech therapist working with adults who have developmental disabilities, and enlisted Ashley's help for one hour a week.
ASHLEY PRATS: I help them with their tongue placement, eating food, eating their lunch, swallowing.
MARYBEL RODRIGUEZ: The adults, from 22 to 80 years old, are provided support, therapy, camaraderie, and compassion. Initially, Ashley was hesitant.
ASHLEY PRATS: I was, at first, extremely scared because I had never really interacted with anyone with developmental disabilities. So I was nervous to come in and be someone so young teaching someone so much older than myself.
MARYBEL RODRIGUEZ: But her confidence blossomed with each visit. And five years later, the junior at St. Brendan High School has made some good friends like Adriana.
ASHLEY PRATS: One of the first things that I connected with Adriana was her love for dancing. I just love the energy and the vibe.
MARYBEL RODRIGUEZ: The center's leader Natalia Wong can't say enough about Ashley and the mission of volunteers like her who become ambassadors.
NATALIA WONG: She's amazing. Volunteers play such an important role, not only in helping us just make sure that we have support inside for our programming, to make sure that we have the resources, but also because they're able to take the mission outside of the walls or Wow.
MARYBEL RODRIGUEZ: But for the last year, the pandemic prevented all the volunteers from being able to enter the center or interact in person.
ASHLEY PRATS: So I wanted to help as much as I could because this place is so dear to my heart. It has taught me so much, and has honestly made me a better person. So I wanted to be able to share that with others.
MARYBEL RODRIGUEZ: So she started an Instagram page to share her Wow experience, and enlisted 15 area schools for a donation drive to gather arts and crafts and cleaning supplies with a tremendous result.
ASHLEY PRATS: On the day of the drive, about 400 cars came. And we raised about $25,000 in supplies for the Wow Center, which was amazing. It was an amazing opportunity. It was very humbling.
MARYBEL RODRIGUEZ: Delivering resources, raising awareness, Ashley kept busy until, finally, that long-awaited in-person visit. She added up all the hours spent here, over 180. But she could not measure how much the experience has taught her.
ASHLEY PRATS: One of my favorite things is the mentality that everyone is seen as equals. Nobody is seen as their disability. We're are all seen as people. And they show me that I can look beyond someone's disabilities and truly see someone for who they really are.
MARYBEL RODRIGUEZ: Marybel Rodriguez, CBS 4 News.
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