Members of The Ability Center visited the Oregon-Northwood Rotary Club, May 14 to explain how they help disabled members of the community receive the information and support they need to live independently.
Tim Harrington, director of The Ability Center, began by telling the story of Alva Bunker, a boy born in 1901 with no hands or legs. Members of the Toledo Rotary Club used to watch him rolling up and down the street on his skateboard, and when he was 16, the club provided him with prosthetic legs and sent him to school.
“Alva was the original inspiration for The Ability Center, which was started in 1920 by Toledo Rotary,” said Harrington. “Over the years that followed, the Rotary Club lost touch with Alva, but in 2011, we found a marked grave at Willow Cemetery in Oregon, and the Rotary Club has now built a marker there explaining Alva’s story.”
Currently, The Ability Center builds 100 ramps every year with the help of volunteer carpenters, maintains close relationships with hospice agencies, and fields approximately 3,000 calls a week on subjects ranging from handicapped parking to funeral arrangements.
“In the last 10 years, The Ability Center moved 750 people from nursing homes back into their community,” he continued. “It’s a major initiative that involves walking into people’s room and asking them if they had every thought about leaving this place.” Dennis Mussery, The Ability Center’s Community Connections Coordinator, explained that disabled people face many perception issues, which the public needs to be educated about. As a former girls’ basketball coach at Ottawa Hills High School, Mussery said there were many people who weren’t sure he could be an effective coach because he had polio and uses a wheelchair.
“It might be the first thing they saw, but it was the last thing they remembered,” he said, remembering how the players and parents quickly accepted his talents. “Now I work for The Ability Center and I try to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves, and be a role model.”
Mussery also expressed appreciation for the Oregon-Northwood Rotary Club’s “Paint Away Polio” event held last month. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation matched the club’s donation two to one, allowing them to donate almost $5,000 to the “End Polio Now” initiative.
“Rotarians and polio go way back – before my time,” he said. “I’ve been aware of the Rotarians ever since I was 2 years old, and when I went to Feilbach School for the Disabled, I know Rotarians were a major contributor to allow me to get my education.”
Tori Thompson, community outreach coordinator, explained that as a Center for Independent Living, The Ability Center provides a wealth of information, advocacy, independent living skills training and peer support for disabled individuals throughout the community. They are also one of few organizations across the county to provide assistance dogs at a nominal fee.
“Those perception issues that Dennis was talking about are not real barriers,” she said. “If they have the life skills and support, these people can do whatever they want.”
For more information about The Ability Center, visit abilitycenter.org.
Dennis Mussery, The Ability Center’s Community Connections Coordinator, demonstrates “popping a wheelie” in his wheelchair, to which he is bound because of polio. The Oregon-Northwood Rotary Club donated almost $5,000 to “End Polio Now” following April’s “Paint Away Polio” event.