Personality: Tara Michele Sample

Spotlight on ThisAbility’s founder who builds awareness, acceptance for people with disabilities

11/22/2023, 6 p.m.
For more than a decade, Tara Michele Sample has provided a space for children and adults living with disabilities.

For more than a decade, Tara Michele Sample has provided a space for children and adults living with disabilities.

Ms. Sample knows firsthand the need for assistance and information when it comes to disabilities. In 2010, she gave birth to her third child, Elijah, after 16 hours of labor and an emergency C-section.

She then spent the years that followed adjusting to the work of raising him, as Elijah was diagnosed with two chromosome disorders.

Ms. Sample’s experience at the time, when information, resources and understanding of special needs was harder to find, led her to found the nonprofit ThisAbility in 2012 to provide information, resources and community for others living with similar circumstances.

“I wanted to create a place for families of all children with disabilities to access resources and information,” Ms. Sample says, “especially those whose children have a rare diagnosis.”

Today, Ms. Sample leads ThisAbility, which has grown to nearly 8,000 members. With a focus on Central Virginia, the organization’s mission is to enhance the lives of those with special needs and make a positive impact.

ThisAbility provides a range of information online for parents with special needs children to help them understand disorders, address potential issues and connect with resources and organizations for additional help.

The nonprofit also presents multiple events every year for those with special needs, their families and communities. Examples include an Adaptive Sports Camp, holidays events, and mentorships.

“We lost a little momentum with COVID,” Ms. Sample says when asked about ThisAbility’s current status, “but we’re still able to get enough assistance to provide some events throughout the year.”

Collaboration is paramount to ensure the success of ThisAbility, which works with groups such as Journey of Hope for Autism for events and receives donations from the public, Dominion Energy and the WaWa Foundation.

These programs make a real difference in the community — the Christmas assistance program alone has helped more than 1,500 children over the years, according to Ms. Sample, with some approximately 350 children and 600 families expected to receive assistance during the holidays.

Ms. Sample says these programs don’t just provide new avenues for fun and resources for those living with special needs, but also address gaps in programs and organizations that are not familiar with how to accommodate people with disabilities.

While public awareness, education and understanding about many disabilities has grown over the years, Ms. Sample says there is still progress to be made, particularly regarding adults with special needs.

And although information on disabilities is more accessible than ever, it can still be difficult to find it online, making ThisAbility a still-necessary resource for education and inclusivity.

“Just because the information is out there doesn’t mean that people know how to actually get to it,” Ms.Sample says. “There just needs to be more knowledge in general in the community.”

Meet a parent helping to inform the community about individuals with special needs and this week’s Personality, Tara Sample:

Volunteer position: Founder, ThisAbility.

Occupation: Photographer and sign maker.

Place of birth: Maryland.

Where I live now: Chester.

Family: Nicholas, 18; Faith, 17; Elijah, 13; Aaron, 10.

ThisAbility is: A nonprofit for children and adults with disabilities.

When and why founded: It was founded in 2012 because of (my son) Elijah, who has two chromosome disorders, one being Down syndrome.

I wanted to create a place for families of all children with disabilities to access resources and information, especially those whose children have a rare diagnosis.

Why the name: We embrace the idea that what might be perceived as a disability by some is, in essence, a distinctive ability for individuals with special needs.

Mission: The mission of ThisAbility is to educate, advocate and foster awareness and acceptance within our community for both children and adults with disabilities and their families. Providing support and resources for the families we serve, we are dedicated to ensuring they have access to services, programs, and activities that enrich their lives.

Headquarters: We do not have an office location but are seeking one. We work from home and host our events at various venues.

How ThisAbility works for children and families: Our organization supports children and families through a comprehensive approach. We offer an adaptive sports program, a Christmas assistance program including a festive party, a care-givers lunch, and a horseback riding and lunch event. Additionally, we provide resources throughout the year, actively assisting families by connecting them with organizations that cater to their needs, whether it’s resources, services or necessities.

ThisAbility is funded by: Sponsors such as Dominion Energy, WaWa Foundation, Walmart and community donations.

ThisAbility partners with: Journey of Hope for Autism and SFP Athletics.

Current goal or project: Our organization’s main goal and project centers around making a positive impact in the community. We are dedicated to creating events and activities throughout the year specifically designed to enhance the lives of individuals with special needs.

Strategy for achieving goals: Collaboration, outreach, diverse programs, volunteers and constant engagement and learning to ensure progress and growth.

No. 1 challenge: Funding.

Since founding ThisAbility, the No. 1 joy I have witnessed: Seeing the impact we have had on families, especially at Christmas.

Upcoming events: A Christmas party for children and adults with disabilities on Dec. 2, and our Christmas Assistance Program for children under 14 on Dec. 15. For more information, please visit https://www.thisability.org/.

How to get involved: Sponsor our Christmas program, sponsor a child or a family, make monetary or gift card donations, donate new toys, clothes or shoes or serve as a volunteer.

How I start the day: I approach the day with a passionate outlook on life. I consciously seek the positive aspects, even in challenging situations. Every experience is an opportunity for learning, and I make a conscious effort to carry love in my heart and to learn something new each day, which enables me to find joy in each day and maintain a deep passion for life. I also cherish the importance of laughter in my life.

The three words that best describe me: Passionate, tenacious, authentic.

If I had 10 extra minutes in the day: I’d roller skate.

Best late-night snack: Nuts.

The music I listen to most is: Depends on my mood … my playlist is versatile.

Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: I don’t know that other people wouldn’t imagine it, but I am an artist; I love to draw and write poetry. I was born with artistic talents that run in the family—both my grandfather and my father were artists.

At the top of my “to-do” list: Spending ample time with my kids, to expose them to new experiences and impart as much knowledge as possible, aiming to broaden their minds and hearts to life’s possibilities.

The best thing my parents ever taught me: My father taught me to be adventurous, to be tough and not to give up, just find another way. My mother taught me compassion, forgiveness and persistence.

The person who influenced me the most: Everyone who crossed my path and showed me compassion, love, forgiveness and gave me guidance. I can’t attribute that to one person but small or grand gestures all made a difference along the way.

Book that influenced me the most: “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey.

What I’m reading now: “Great CEOs are Lazy” by Jim Schleckser.

Next goal: Travel more and grow my business.