Nonprofit Founder Shares Important Lesson: ‘Do Not Let Your Disability Limit Your Experiences’

With the support of corporate partners like Edison International, CALIF continues its mission of empowering people with disabilities and special needs.

May 22, 2014 | By Flor Tolley

As a seven-year-old girl growing up in the Philippines, Lillibeth Navarro looked forward to becoming an upperclassman at her elementary school. But the significant milestone would require her navigating up several flights of stairs, a non-issue for most students, but Navarro is a quadriplegic, paralyzed from her neck down due to Polio.

Navarro lobbied school officials to move her classes to the first floor so she could participate in the school’s activities with her classmates. The school supported her wish and the experience taught Navarro an important lesson: do not let your disability limit your experiences.

Her passion for advocating for the rights of the disabled led her to form Communities Actively Living Independent & Free (CALIF) in 2001, one of California’s 11 independent living centers for people with special needs. The group’s mission is to support and empower people with disabilities and special needs to ensure they have equal opportunities for housing, employment, and other benefits and services. 

“After people become disabled following an accident, we are here to let them know that life is not over, that with modifications, they can still live rewarding and full lives,” Navarro said.

It was at one of the many community events she attends that Navarro learned about Edison International’s support of the communities it serves and looked into whether the company would provide financial support for CALIF. 

This past March, she participated in one of Edison International’s Community Grants Day, a philanthropic workshop that provides technical assistance on how to apply for a grant, and explains the company’s four giving priorities: education, the environment, public safety and civic engagement.

CALIF, which works closely with the Department of Rehabilitation, applied for and received a $5,000 community grant through Edison’s Civic Engagement component. This grant will allow CALIF to strengthen its workforce development program for people with special needs. It will also allow CALIF to help its clients develop impactful resumes, create mock interviews, and provide tips on grooming. The grant will also fund an assistive technology device lending program for the disabled community to further help people with disabilities find employment.   

“We are there for each [client] during each stage of the employment process,” Navarro said.

She added, “Edison is a real community partner. In Edison, you find a friendly neighbor and an organization that understands the community.” 

Last year, Edison International gave $19.7 million to thousands of nonprofits whose work is making a difference in the categories of education, public safety/preparedness, environment and civic engagement. Edison International’s support of charitable causes is funded entirely by its shareholders and is not charged to customers of its utility, Southern California Edison (SCE).

“We see our community donations as part of our commitment to be a leading corporate citizen,” said Tammy Tumbling, SCE director of Philanthropy and Community Investment. “We believe that helping organizations support workforce development initiatives strengthens our communities and regions.”

To learn more about how to apply for an Edison International grant, the company will be holding its first web-based Community Grants Day on June 9. To register for one of two workshops, visit and complete enrollment by June 5. 

For more information about Edison’s giving priorities or the Community Grant Program, visit                               

Topics: People