Prospect Heights woman wins $1M prize for spinal cord injury advocacy work

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Thursday, September 10, 2020
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Reveca Torres' non-profit Backbones has worked to build community for people with spinal cord injuries for more than a decade

PROSPECT HEIGHTS, Ill. (WLS) -- For more than a decade, Reveca Torres has worked to build community for people with spinal cord injuries. This week, she got the surprise of a lifetime, a one million dollar prize with no strings attached.

Torres is sewing masks for her friends and family. But there was a time when she didn't think even that was possible.

"I thought, how could I ever sew if I can't move my feet and use the pedals. I figured that out," she said.

For more than 10 years, Torres has worked to better the lives of people with spinal cord injuries and disabilities like her own. When she was 13, she was paralyzed from the chest down in a car crash.

"I didn't really have anybody to talk to at that time. I didn't have a peer or anyone to ask questions to or relate to," Torres said.

In college, she found her community and has been working to build on it with art, photography, film, and conversation through her non-profit, Backbones.

She relearned to draw, with dozens of squares representing her struggles and successes.

"People with disabilities are part of all of our communities," Torres said. "They intersect with all identities."

The work has always been meaningful, but now Torres has major recognition.

She just received a $1 million "Visionary Prize" from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation for her work.

"[I'm] shocked and honored and grateful. All of those things all of the feelings you can think of," she said.

And that work will continue with a little more help.

"I would love to have Backbones be able to hire people and hire people with disabilities to work on different aspects and really grow and build our community," she said, adding that she'll use a portion of the money to make her own home more accessible.

Disability is "not something to be afraid of and fear. It's something to embrace," Torres said.