Stephanie Kusser first began working with Avenues SLS in 1995 while working a second job and going to school.  Stephanie’s outgoing nature and love of community endeared her to almost everyone she met.  As you can see from Stephanie’s story below, family comes first!  So when her older sister Melanie needed support moving into her own place for the first time, Stephanie moved in with her to ensure a successful transition.  Steph’s “Family First” mantra really comes out in her story which she shares below.  Avenues SLS is pleased to honor Stephanie Kusser for Women’s History Month.


I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana along with Melanie, my sister, and Robert, my brother.  We moved to Santa Clarita, California in 1981 and settled into a home where our mother still lives. We grew up in a wonderful neighborhood with lots of kids our age. Our home was popular with the neighborhood kids since we had a swimming pool. Melanie, Robert, and I learned how to swim at a very young age and we often had swim parties and friends over.

Prior to us moving to California, we lived in New Orleans. My mother and father learned of a pilot program for children with autism at the University of New Orleans (UNO). My mother took my sister to UNO 5 days a week starting at age 2 for all sorts of therapies (speech, Occupational, play therapies) for 2 years. My father advocated for Melanie at an early age during her educational school years. He insisted she be mainstreamed into “regular” classes in high school. She successfully completed high school and graduated with a High School degree.

Growing up, my brother and I had developed a network of friends from school and the neighborhood. My sister struggled in the early years with making her own set of friends. My father insisted that Melanie would be part of the group when we were young, therefore, my brother and I had to include Melanie in all our activities with our friends. If I was invited to a sleepover, Melanie came too. If I was invited to a birthday party, Melanie came too. At first, I was upset about this. Later, I realized that this was the beginning of our strong sister bond. Eventually, around high school years,  my sister developed her social skill set and was able to independently form her own friendships and had her own set of friends.

A few years after graduating from High School, Melanie and I moved into an apartment together. We did a lot of things together like traveling. Melanie and I went on a trip to see my brother in Texas when he was in the army. We traveled with him for 2 weeks visiting several nearby states and family in Louisiana. Melanie and I took a trip to New York City and Oahu, Hawaii. We also visited my friend in Washington DC and visited all the monuments. Melanie, like I, loves to travel, go to fine restaurants, and hang out with friends and family.

During this time, I graduated from College of the Canyons with my Associate’s Degree and completed the Registered Nursing Program in 1999. I went on to complete my Bachelor’s in Nursing (BSN) at California State University Northridge (CSUN) in 2006 and my Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) at UCLA in 2008 in order to become a Nurse Practitioner (NP). I currently practice as an NP at the Veteran’s Affairs (VA) in Long Beach. My specialty is geriatrics and palliative/hospice care. I work only with veterans and I absolutely love it.

I met my husband, Don, on eHarmony and we married in 2016. We have two girls, Abigail who is 3 years old, and Amelia who is 13 months old. Melanie is “Aunt Mel” to my girls. Abigail absolutely loves her Aunt Mel and all her jewelry and dresses that Aunt Mel wears when she visits us.

Having Melanie as my sister has been a blessing. I don’t see my sister as having a disability, but rather character. She has always been mainstreamed into my life as “normal” and has developed into a beautiful, independent, loving, and confident woman.