When you meet Leroy Woods, you immediately notice his shiny, amber-color earring, his fast and easy smile, and his twinkling eyes. All that sparkle perfectly complements his outgoing and energetic personality. It’s easy to imagine him in his role as recreation assistant for Quantum LEAP, encouraging consumers with developmental disabilities to get up, get going, and reach their fitness and socialization goals. Now a LEAP staffer, Woods was a LEAP consumer himself not that long ago. As a participant in the Job Link program he was encouraged to stretch and reach his own life goals.
A 2010 graduate of Max S. Hayes High School, Woods—who is hard of hearing—is currently enrolled at Cuyahoga Community College. He joined Quantum LEAP as an assistant to coordinator Steve Smutak about a year ago. Perhaps because of his own life experience, Woods has a sensitivity and maturity most young adults have not yet attained, Smutak says.
“Leroy is a natural fit for this position. The participants are getting to know him, and they look for him at events,” Smutak said. “He has a disability himself so he gets it, and not everybody does. Leroy’s a kind-spirited, gentle guy, just like most of our participants. You have to have that quality if you work with our consumers. Even though they have developmental disabilities, these consumers know when you’re genuine, when they can trust you. They pick that up right off the bat. Once they love you, you’re part of the family.”
Woods acknowledges that he’s become quite a hit with the Quantum LEAP participants.
“At first I was kind of shy, but then I kept reminding myself that they said they wanted someone with energy, to help get everyone involved, and I just got used to it. And then the consumers just started falling in love with me and asking me questions all the time,” he said, seeming amazed at how quickly he fit into the group.
Woods was born with his disability. His mother enrolled him in deaf-education classes as a young child, but he refused to use American Sign Language around others. “I didn’t like to use ASL because I thought people would tease me. I didn’t want to sit with the deaf kids in school. I wanted to be like everybody else,” he said.
As a participant in the Job Link program, in March 2010 Woods took a trip to the Ohio School for the Deaf and competed in the ASL Idol program . That trip, he said, “changed my life.”
“I met all these people with disabilities, and I learned that just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you can’t do things. LEAP has taught me to be a man, to be independent. I’ve been saving money and now I have my own car. I have my own bank account and my own apartment.”
Asked what his favorite Quantum LEAP activity is, Woods immediately replied, “Game night! I get to play basketball with the consumers!” Always athletic, Woods competed in basketball, football, soccer, and track in high school, and he also dabbled in baseball and acting.
“Leroy likes to interact with the consumers,” Smutak acknowledged. “They see him getting involved and then they want to do it too.”
Hearing participants talk about their lives can be difficult, Woods said, but not surprisingly, he’s found a way to turn difficulty into something positive.
“It makes me said to hear that they live in group homes, and that some of them have parents who don’t want them. So I try to show them a lot of love.”