Students: Stories of Triumph

Meet Chris

The first thing you might notice about 2004 Hatlen Center graduate Chris is his rippling muscles. It is true that he can bench press 520 lbs, is ranked #1 nationally as a brown belt in Judo for regular Judo, and #2 nationally as a black belt at the Paralympics level. Anyone would agree that these accomplishments are very impressive! Yet, Chris’ physical strength and skill are only a part of what makes up this warm and friendly man.

This tenacity and sense of self are Chris’ real strengths. While at student at The Hatlen Center, Chris made good friends, participated with gusto and picked up skills very quickly. After leaving The Hatlen Center program, Chris wanted to find a job. Through networking with friends, Chris met Reuben Burleson, an O&M instructor who had a Special Day class at Montclair Elementary school in Oakland. At the time, Reuben had a student who needed one-on-one assistance, but no one was able to work with him. Chris volunteered to be this student’s aid (without pay). Later Chris moved with this student to a middle school, where he was eventually hired by the district. The school district was initially concerned about Chris’s visual impairment, but were glad to hear that he was the “one” person that this student would listen to and work with. Chris also proved to be a very valuable asset to the classroom as a whole, helping the teacher with all of her students.

We were so proud of Chris. But, the story continues…

Chris loved his position as an aide, but he wanted a college education. So, with the help of the Department of Rehabilitation, while working his full-time aide position and pursuing his love of Judo, Chris went to college. As if his life wasn’t complicated enough, part way through getting his degree, Chris’ Rehabilitation counselor unexpectedly passed away. At that point, Chris decided to take out loans to finish school and in 2012 he obtained his credential through Oakland Teaching Fellows. Like many of our graduates, Chris periodically checks in with us, and he showed up a few weeks ago to tell us the good news…

Chris now has his own Special Day class at Oakland Tech high school teaching thirteen lucky students from 14-21 years of age, including the student that he started with so many years ago! Chris is still pursuing Judo with gusto and we fully expect to see him in the next Paralympics. Chris, you are one of our Hatlen Center heroes!