Lakeshore Foundation Avenues to Independence
September 1999 issue
|The Buddy System
Fitness Competition Fun Independence. All of these words have been used to describe the benefits of maintaining an active lifestyle through programs offered by the Lakeshore Foundation. But equally important are the friendships participants develop along the way. Whether you call it socialization, emotional support, or peer interaction... the relationships in our lives are an important element of what defines us as individuals. The following individuals demonstrate just how important those bonds can be.
On a typical day, you might find June over at Beas house, helping her wash and set her hair, or maybe they would be planting some tomatoes together in the garden. Either, or both, of the ladies might be on the phone with Roy, getting the name of a good plumber or electrician, or perhaps planning a trip out to the Bright Star for lunch. And on exercise days, Bea and Roy would probably expect to bump into June at the Lakeshore Foundation swimming pool, where she works out daily in the warm water.
At 62 years old, June Roper is the baby of this group that met through their mutual participation in the Foundations community aquatics program. She calls 76-year-old Bea Carlton and 81-year-old Roy Vincent her guardian angels, and recalls how they helped her through one of the toughest times of her life. "When my husband died a year ago they came through for me. It was overwhelming the comfort and support that I got from these friends. They are so dependable."
June, Roy and Bea each joined the aquatics program at different times, but all have been involved for almost a decade or longer. June says the warm water has miraculous therapeutic effect on her pain due to a back injury. Bea and Roy both use water exercise as therapy for knee problems, and Roy has also had both hips replaced.
They have nicknames for each other. Bea is affectionately known as "Mrs. Milo" because her late husband was the founder of Milos Hamburgers. June is "the mermaid" because of her commitment to daily exercise at the pool, even though she has to drive all the way from Culman. And Roy... well they just call him reliable.
"Roy has two grown daughters who live with him, and I guess thats what makes him such a caretaker of everyone else," says Bea. "If you need advice, he is a good person to go to for help. If you need to learn something, he knows just where you should go. If you have a drippy faucet, he knows who you should call. We just trust what he says."
Roy, who is as quick-witted as he is trustworthy, jokes that its really not that hard to impress his two friends. "They cant deny that Im older than the rest of them, so I sound like a wise old sage. I go back farther than they do, so they cant argue with me." But he adds, "I enjoy talking things out with them when one of us has a decision to make. Weve had our friendship outside the pool, as well as in it."
Unfortunately, the loss of a loved one is something these three have in common. Roys wife passed away ten years ago, and Bea was widowed about four years ago. Like June, Bea says the support of her friends at Lakeshore was her salvation during a difficult time.
"So many of my other friends went to grief programs when this happened to them, and I had planned to do that too," Bea says. "Then I found that coming to Lakeshore and being with my friends gave me that same kind of support. I didnt need a grief program because I had so many friends and so many nice relationships that helped me through each day."
Partners For Life
"It never occurred to me that I would marry someone with a disability," says Ronda Jarvis-Ray. "People say to us, You must be together because you are both in wheelchairs, but I have never perceived him as a person in a wheelchair. Even people in wheelchairs really cant comprehend our relationship."
Ronda and her husband Joe Ray met through wheelchair athletics when both were competing in a wheelchair tennis tournament in Michigan. It wasnt love at first sight, but there was an instant recognition that a shared interest in wheelchair athletics could be the basis for a strong friendship. Ronda was living in Nashville at the time, and Joe lived in Birmingham. Both were stellar athletes. Joe competed in tennis, water-skiing and wheelchair basketball; and Ronda was one of the nations top female wheelchair basketball players with a newfound interest in tennis.
Working as a rehabilitation case manager. Ronda was well aware of the Lakeshore Foundations reputation for wheelchair athletics. She was contemplating a move to Birmingham in order to train at Lakeshore, and stayed in touch with Joe by phone and during her frequent trips to the city. By the time Ronda found work opportunities in Birmingham, the relationship had evolved into a romance.
"We were compatible on many levels... our interest in athletics, our competitive drive, our desire to live balanced complete lives," says Ronda, who now serves as Chief Program Officer for the Lakeshore Foundation. "Our relationship, like any relationship, evolved over time. The most obvious connection to most people would be that we are in wheelchairs, but for us the chairs dont mean anything. It is the life-changing experience we have both had that has shaped us as individuals and brought us together. We shared an appreciation for each others athletic abilities and we could do things competitively together. At the same time, he is very different from me in temperament and that brings balance to my life."
Joe agrees, "I think you are going to unconsciously seek out a person who has similar interests. The more I got to know Ronda, the more I recognized what an incredible a person she is. Love like that you dont look for it, because youll never find it. I just happens and it happened."
Ultimately, Joe and Ronda became partners on yet another level. Joe, who works as a Systems Analyst at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, is also a champion water-skier. His dream was to establish an organization that would teach young people with disabilities how to water-ski, and with Rondas help, that dream has come true. Together, they founded and operate Spud Ray Adaptive Aquatics, a not-for-profit organization that works closely with the Lakeshore Foundation. "
Joe is very committed to being a role model for young people," Ronda says. "We do this together and its a way of giving something back to athletics by showing others all of the possibilities that are out there."
For his part, Joe says Ronda played an important role in transforming Spud Ray from a vision to reality. "She helped me put what I feel into words," Joe says. "She is a very good communicator and she helped me refine my mission and communicate it to others. She ended up getting hooked on the program, too, and believes in it just as strongly as I do. When you have a passion for something, it takes you along with it... you dont take it along with you."
All It Takes Is A Little Faith
Faith Hogue lived up to her name this summer when she vowed she would be using a manual wheelchair by the start of the school year. The petite 13-year-old speaks with determination about her goal of learning to do more things for herself.
"I wanted to be more independent and I didnt want to be in a motorized chair for the rest of my life," says Faith, who has spina bifida. "Im getting older and I have a lot of opportunities at my door. I wanted to be able to get into the chair by myself and push it."
Faith attended the Lakeshore Foundation Sports Camp this summer, where she not only learned to push a manual chair, but also went water skiing, played basketball and tennis, and learned archery and shooting skills.
"Faith has such a great attitude," says Kevin Orr, one of her coaches this summer at Lakeshore. "By learning to push a chair and do more things for herself, shes accomplished much more than just being a good athlete."
Faiths commitment to independence also followed her home from Sports Camp. Each day she took a manual chair home with her from camp and practiced. And each day, she got a little faster.
"It was very hard," she admits, "but I really enjoyed it. Having the right kind of equipment was important and just wanting to do it. There comes a point where you just need to do things for yourself."
Faith beams when she says her parents are also very proud of her accomplishments. "They are really, really happy. My mom came and picked me up each day, even though she also works. My parents are both really interested in seeing me do this."
Above And Beyond The Call Of Duty
On Monday through Friday, Dr. Charlie Law is busy providing medical care to children with physical disabilities, while also directing pediatric rehabilitation services for Childrens Health System in Birmingham. But come Saturday, Dr. Law is just as likely to be found lifting and toting wheelchairs, or practicing free throws with children who are much like those he serves all week.
In fact, Dr. Law refers many of his own young patients to the Lakeshore Foundation Super Sports Program, where he frequently volunteers as a helper on Super Sports Saturday or as a travel companion when the junior team heads out of town for competition.
"What I hope to do in my practice is to enable children with physical disabilities to participate in all types of activities at their functional level, so the Lakeshore Foundation is a perfect volunteer experience for me," he explains. "I get to see how the job that I am paid for translates into real experiences and community reintegration. If a child isnt able to get back into the community and back into life, then in some ways, I am failing at my job."
Dr. Law says the skills and confidence children develop through recreational activities like those offered by the Lakeshore Foundation will carry over into other areas of life, making these children more independent. And while the children learn from the coaches and volunteers, they also learn from each other.
"Typically the parents of these children dont have disabilities, so it can be hard for them to teach functional skills to their kids," he explains. "But if children with physical disabilities are in programs that allow them to see peers doing certain activities and being independent, then that is a great encouragement for them to recognize that they can do that skill themselves."
While Dr. Law is occasionally called upon to apply his medical expertise at Super Sports events, he is usually just a regular volunteer. He even likes to bring his own children to help out with the program. "My own children are able bodied and I think it is a good experience for them to interact with children who have disabilities. I hope when they are teenagers, and they see children at school who use wheelchairs, that they will know to treat these kids the same as able-bodied friends."
Dr. Law also volunteers as a classifier for wheelchair sports, which means he places junior and adult athletes in appropriate classifications to compete with others who have similar disabilities. Only physical therapists and physicians can serve as classifiers.
Princess Diana U.S. Fund Grants $26,000 To Super Sports
The Lakeshore Foundations highly successful Super Sports program for children with physical disabilities will be expanding to two new areas of Alabama, thanks to a $26,000 grant from a U.S. fund set up in memory of Britains Princess Diana. The Foundations Super Sports was one of 19 programs nationwide to receive a share this year of $563,550 given out by the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. Funds will be used to establish programs in the Tuscaloosa and Anniston/Gadsden areas.
"Princess Diana embraced people who had nowhere else to turn; her touch gave them hope," says Martha Schlager, chairwoman of the funds U.S. board of directors. "By serving young people who are facing major challenges, these grants ensure that the work continues."
The Super Sports program, for children ages 6 to 18, has already enjoyed tremendous success in Birmingham and at satellite locations in Montgomery, Decatur and Huntsville. Expectations are that it will also thrive in eastern Alabama, where the Lakeshore Foundation is establishing community-based support for the new programs. In Calhoun County, for instance, the Foundation will work with Jacksonville State University (JSU) to begin offering services in early October.
Glenn Roswal, a JSU physical education professor, says about 15 physical education students will volunteer to help children in the program. "Were excited they got the grant," Roswal says. "It s great practical experience for our students, and we also get to give something back to the community."
The U.S. Diana Funds current focus on youth at risk is in response to the increasing challenges faced by todays teens a group whose well-being is vital to the nations future, according to the Diana U.S. Fund. It is also in keeping with Princess Diana s commitment to issues and people at societys margins. "I found myself being more and more involved with people who were rejected by society," she once told an interviewer. "I found an affinity there."
With the start of the new year, the Lakeshore Foundation plans to further enhance its Super Sports Program by offering Career Connections, to encourage young people with physical disabilities to plan for full employment. This element of the Super Sports Program will provide regular opportunities for young participants to interact with adults who have physical disabilities who are successfully employed. It will also help them learn about career paths and begin identifying skills and interests related to specific areas of employment.
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February 1999 issue of Soaring Spirit