When Lauren McCray wants something, she goes for it. Whether it’s traveling around the country or starting her own business, she doesn’t hesitate to pursue her dreams. As she puts it, “I do a lot!”
It wasn’t always this way. Maryland’s Senior Director, Sandy Chilton, recalls that 17 years ago when Lauren first teamed up with Aspire, she struggled to express herself in a manner that others could hear: “She just wanted everything right now, but didn’t know how to get there. She would get really angry.” Over the years, McCray has done the work to learn more effective communication. Chilton notes, “she advocates for herself, sets her goals, and makes a plan to get there. She is so independent, and a really fun person.”
McCray has taken that advocacy and used it to help others as well. She’s a member and role model in Voices of Us, a local self-advocacy group. She encourages others to enjoy life – “if you want to do something, do it!” Because she’s such a strong advocate, McCray landed a job at The IMAGE Center, a local advocacy organization, giving information about the Medicaid waiver to people trying to connect with services.
McCray lives with several housemates. Staff support them in any aspect of daily living where they need assistance. She reports, “They allow me to do whatever I want to do. They treat me like family.” She had been close friends with two of her roommates who passed away in the last couple of years, and she spoke movingly at both their services. McCray’s connection to others and her eloquence are evident in many areas of her life.
McCray is developing her identity as a writer. She is writing her autobiography. “It’s about the good, the bad, and the ugly of my life. It also has poems and positive things in there. I call it my everything book.” She hopes to publish this when complete, but she’s sensitive to the impact it may have on her family.
McCray is just as excited about her business, Designs by LM. She tie-dyes shirts, socks, and gift bags and then sells them. Thus far, her work is selling well at craft fairs and to her network of friends and acquaintances. She’s selling as much as she can make. She also puts together puzzles, urethanes them, and sells them as decorations.
Travel and music are important to McCray, too. Her favorite musician is Justin Timberlake, and she’s been to several concerts. She loves to have fun–she rented a limo to bring her and her friends to a show. Her last trips before the pandemic were to LA and to Las Vegas. She didn’t win big (just a dollar!), but she’s eager to go back.
McCray has been gaining independence steadily and now spends time without staff in the community. McCray is planning to move out of her current home to an apartment of her own, closer to her family. She knows she’ll still need some assistance, and she’s working on transferring from her wheelchair more independently to reduce her reliance on staff.
Lauren McCray is going for it and building her life on her own terms.