Event to benefit disabled

Register reporter

Anne Kazmierczak/Register
Resource Center for Independent Living office manager Donna Goodner helps Stephanie Merriam up a ramp into the RCIL office in Iola Monday. The non-profit agency is holding a “Walk and Roll” fund raiser on the Iola square at 10 a.m. Sept. 26 to help build wheelchair-accessible ramps at the homes of disabled area residents and raise awareness about mobility impairment.

Stephanie Merriam had never thought about being confined by her body.
Just a month shy of her 18th birthday, Merriam, originally from Coffeyville, was in a motorcycle accident that left her with permanent spinal nerve damage.
“My brain was like scrambled eggs,” she said.
She spent the next three months in a coma.
“When I came out, I was like a baby,” Merriam said. “I had to learn how to walk, talk, eat again. My doctors told me I would never walk.”
Pure spunk and years of rehabilitation, though, have Merriam up and about once more — to a degree. She still suffers from spasms and “startles easily,” she said. She needs assistance getting around. Ramps help her navigate in and out of buildings.
Merriam is one of about 300 clients served by the Resource Center for Indendepent Living. The agency’s Iola office serves clients “from here to Coffeyville to Baxter Springs to Pleasanton,” said Donna Goodner, office manager. Many clients are in Iola, Chanute and Fort Scott. “We are pretty much everywhere,” Hermreck said. Statewide, the agency serves more than 2,000 people.

ON SEPT. 26, RCIL is holding a fundraiser to purchase materials to build ramps for those confined to their homes. The ramps, which comply with Americans with Disabilities Act specifications, typically cost $1,500 to build.
“I’ve seen someone just take a piece of plywood and drop it down over their steps, and that’s not safe,” Goodner said of makeshift means.
The 10 a.m. fundraiser on the Iola square is a walk, with a notable variation.
“We’ll probably go around the square once,” Goodner said. “It’s difficult for many people to go even that far,” she said of disabled clients who will participate in the event.
“We’re going to have people with walkers and wheelchairs go around the square,” Goodner said. Anyone — regardless of mobility — can join them. Volunteers also are needed to help push the wheelchair-bound.
Before the walk, speakers will kick off the event. Miss Wheelchair Kansas has been invited, Goodner said. Participants will be treated to a brunch of homemade breakfast burritos, biscuits and gravy and fresh fruit after walking.
Participants who raise $25 will receive a free commemorative T-shirt. Sponsors who donate $100 or more will be recognized through a banner on the square and their name on the T-shirt, Goodner said. “Because we’re a nonprofit, the donation is tax-deductible,” said Andrea Hermreck, targeted case manager.
RCIL Peer Services members, disabled individuals who assist others with finding support services, initiated the Build-a-Ramp program, Goodner said.
“The Peers in this area have a waiting list of people who need ramps,” Goodner said.
Contact Goodner at the RCIL office, 365-8144, to sign up or make a donation.

RCIL HAS 12 regional offices. The agency provides disabled individuals with free counseling and case management. They offer, free of charge, life skills training and loans of durable medical equipment to those in need. They offer peer support and information referral, along with advocating for the disabled.
Building ramps, though, is new, Hermreck said.
Along with soliciting donations of funds and materials, the agency is applying for grants for the project.