EVERY PERSON with a disability has the right to an independent lifestyle and the right to define what represents independence for him.
This is the founding principle of the Maryland Center for Independent Living, which it upholds with services and programs for those who are physically disabled and want independence.
A community-based organization with no national affiliations, the center was founded in 1978 by two disabled persons in the Maryland Rehabilitation Center and their counselor.
Executive director Gloria Ray Carpeneto, who has been with the center since its beginning, has a staff of 10, seven of whom are disabled. Carpeneto believes that although a hospital offers excellent care and counseling, those who are disabled from accidents or diseases are essentially well although chronically disabled.
''We offer recreational opportunities, a very comprehensive information and referral service with regard to independent living. Also, there are workshops for developing money management, assertiveness and self-advocacy, self-health care and many other independent living skills,'' she says.
There is a speakers bureau, and the center offers technical assistance to individuals and organizations to make homes and businesses accessible for the disabled. And, it advocates for the rights of such individuals and groups to live in the communities of their choosing in affordable, accessible housing.
The center's counselors and workers are often the disabled although all volunteers are welcome.
One valued volunteer and member of MCIL's board of directors is Tom Creutzer, a paraplegic, who gives the center his spare time and says that ''a disabled person who has come through the process of acceptance is often more capable of reaching and helping a newly disabled.''
In 1970, at age 30, Creutzer was shot six times during the robbery of the grocery store he owned in the city. His spinal cord was severely injured. Six bullets entered his body and five remain there.
''I felt much pain from the bullets at first, but that's gone. Yet, I have pain all of the time, and keeping busy is the only way I can get it off my mind,'' says Creutzer. He explains that the ''pain is between the two parts of my body where the paralysis ends, and it never stops hurting there. I guess you could call it the pain from paralysis.''
Rehabilitated at the Montebello Hospital, he then became director of volunteers at the Maryland Rehabilitation Center. ''Then I had to take a year off and get some psychological counseling in order to learn to deal with my disability,'' he says.
Today, Creutzer is a busy and enthusiastic person who loves life and helping others. He has never married and lives with his family. He sells real estate for O'Conor, Piper and Flynn, mainly in the Perry Hall area where he lives. He gets around in his wheelchair and an adapted car.
He says he does whatever is needed at the center and is very excited about its programs, especially two support groups, ''one for the disabled and one for their families.
''We hope the participants can lay all their thoughts, feelings and questions out on the table. Too often, so much goes unsaid and we want to present a comfortable and understanding atmosphere with no-holds-barred discussions. It was this kind of involvement that helped me accept and have a new beginning,'' he says.
The center needs and welcomes volunteers for its many programs, its speakers bureau, support groups or office help. Those who will become counselors will work with another counselor for a training period. Hours are flexible.
The center receives some federal and state funds but is very dependent upon donations from the public. The address is 6305-A Sherwood Road (an extension of the Alameda just past its intersection with Walker Avenue).
Call Carpeneto at 377-5900.