Johanna Villa-Gomez is an Area Manager for the Day Program at Project Independence (PI). She came to PI 17 years ago.

What do you do in your spare time?

I enjoy traveling and exploring new places. I like riding my bike, drawing, and writing. My happy place is spending time with family and friends.

What drives you / motivates you to help others?

Helping others has always been in my nature, it aligns with my personal values, and I genuinely enjoy helping others and building social connections while doing so.


What’s your favorite thing about working at PI?

Working directly with the individuals we serve, seeing their faces light up when we plan special events or activities or watching someone succeed at a volunteer site or college class when others thought it couldn’t be achieved.

What are your favorite client successes?

So many to note over the past 17 years, but one in particular that stands out is an individual I met at an initial intake.  Her family shared she would need a wheelchair to access the community because of her limited mobility, would need to wear adult diapers while attending program, and would require assistance with feeding.

Once she began our program, she never brought her wheelchair to program and was able to walk and take public transportation while out in the community. After the first three months of attending our program, she no longer required adult diapers and would notify her staff when she needed to use the restroom. After 4 or 5 months of attending our program, she was able to feed herself independently without staff assistance. It’s remarkable how successful an individual can be with any of their personal goals and independence with the proper supports in place and a supportive team to encourage their progress along the way.

What tips would you give to other people looking to work in your field?  

Establishing strong boundaries is important as well as being mindful and empathetic because success comes when you find that balance. Most importantly have fun and enjoy what you’re doing, and work will never feel like work! Challenge yourself to learn new things and keep developing your skills.  This will help keep you engaged and motivated.

What are three things you think the general population needs to know about people with developmental disabilities?

  • Independence is key. People living with a disability should be able to make his or her own choices, enjoying the same freedoms and services as the rest of society.
  • All individuals with any disability should always be treated with respect and dignity.
  • Disabilities come in many forms, including mobility, cognition, independent living, or hearing/vision impairments , to name a few.