As she stood 22 stories above downtown Boston this past July, preparing to rappel off the roof of the Hyatt Regency hotel—just down the street from Suffolk—Natalie Breen waved to her mom, who proceeded to cover her eyes.
“You’re the calmest person I’ve seen all day,” said the assistant preparing her for her descent. Perhaps what centered Breen at 200 feet up—despite her initial nervousness—was thoughts of what brought her to that roof in the first place: a conviction to support individuals with disabilities, and her love for her brother.
Breen was there as a participant in a fundraiser for Special Olympics Massachusetts called Over the Edge, open to individuals who raised more than $1,000 for the organization. Breen, whose brother Pat plays basketball on the Special Olympics team, raised $1,200 in just three days thanks in part to the generosity of her Suffolk friends.
The young advocate wrote a blog post about her relationship with her brother, which spread rapidly among her friends and family via social media. It’s also been republished by Bay State Parent magazine.
This is not Breen’s first foray into autism advocacy; she has been involved with Autism Speaks for the past decade. In addition to helping her brother with the speeches he gives about his experience, she and her family also participate in the organization’s annual walk, raising more than $10,000 over the years. She’s also been tapped to start a greater Boston young professionals’ group for the organization.
Closer to home in Medford, Mass., after her brother won the city’s Disability Awareness Award (on Breen’s nomination), Mayor Michael McGlynn asked if she would join the city’s Human Rights and Disability Commission. The other members include professors from nearby Tufts University and city employees.
“I’m like the only person under 50 there,” says Breen, who at Suffolk has participated in SOULS and the Journey Leadership Program. “I feel like I have a lot of energy, so I hope having someone younger adds some freshness to it. I can see there have been stalemates on a lot of issues.”
As if that wasn’t enough, Breen was selected to participate in the College Think Tank this past June. She was one of more than 100 Boston-area college students who convened at the MassChallenge headquarters in Boston’s Innovation District to brainstorm solutions to vacancy and housing issues in the city.
At the end of the day, the groups presented to a crowd including Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, and the city’s Office of Business Development and Boston Main Streets will work to turn the students’ ideas into reality.
Meanwhile, Breen is focused on helping shape a reality that better caters to people with disabilities—and that includes raising enough money to be back on the roof of the Hyatt Regency next year.