Izabella Davis: Empowering Teens with Disabilities

April 13, 2017

We’ve known 17-year-old  Izabella Davis since she was a little girl, and we’re pleased, but hardly surprised, at what an impressive young woman she’s growing up to be. A longtime patient of Cascade Dafo founder Don Buethorn, Izzy is on a mission to help other young people with physical disabilities find their creative voices and build self-esteem. We recently talked with Izzy about her new program, Express Yourself, which she developed for teens in her hometown of Seattle.

Tell us about the Express Yourself program.

Express Yourself is a nonprofit empowerment program for teenagers with physical disabilities, designed to encourage self-expression through different artistic mediums. Over the course of six workshops we will be exploring photography, film-making, theater, visual art, public speaking and creative writing through the collaboration of several professionals and arts organizations in the Seattle area.

We understand you received a grant for the program—that’s pretty impressive. What was the process?

Last April my mom came across an ad promoting Ann Taylor’s HERlead (previously ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative) program for high school girls in North America. I was intrigued enough to apply and to my surprise learned I would be one of the 50 chosen as fellows! The first step was flying to New York City to the leadership summit. The program is sponsored partly through the UN and Hillary Clinton’s Vital Voices Global initiative so we were given the chance to meet primarily women leaders in activism, business, and politics from around the world. After returning home we were given the option to develop a proposal for a nonprofit program grant to support our communities and spread the message of the organization.

What was your motivation for founding Express Yourself?

As teens come of age they seek to find their voice—belief in themselves and acceptance allows them to develop one that is strong, resilient, and their own. Teens with physical disabilities are at risk for slipping through the cracks, choosing to remain invisible—and often leave their teen years struggling to find pathways to a healthy adult life. Growing up with a physical disability, I have experienced firsthand the detrimental effects it can have on self-esteem. Now that I have reached a plateau in my recovery, I look toward the younger generation of disabled teens and want to ensure they never experience similar insecurities.

What type of participants are you hoping to reach, and what’s your goal for them?

I am looking towards reaching teens with physical disabilities, ages 12-18, in the Seattle area. My goal ultimately is to create a network of like-experienced teens while pushing them out of their comfort zone with fun and interactive creativity workshops.

What’s next for you?

We are allowed to reapply for a grant every year, so I may decide to repeat the program again next year, or develop an entirely new project instead. Regardless, my work with nonprofits will continue. I was recently accepted as one of the 220 National Bank of America Student Leaders and will devote the majority of my summer to serving my community though that role. 

We wish Izzy—and all the young people taking part in Express Yourself—much success as they use their powerful, unique voices to promote creativity and inclusivity. For more information on Express Yourself, go to https://www.expressyourselfseattle.org/.