SIX MONTHS INTO THE WAR, UKRAINIANS WITH DISABILITIES STILL STRUGGLE TO ESCAPE

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As August comes to an end and the war in Ukraine reaches its six-month mark, the majority of people with disabilities continue to face abandonment and imminent danger by Russian soldiers as humanitarian groups struggle to evacuate them from their war-ravaged homeland. According to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, there are 2.7 million people with disabilities still at risk in Ukraine. And as of late summer, the U.N. says that of the approximately 11 million refugees who’ve reached the country’s western border, few have been people with disabilities.

Speaking from a place of refuge in the Netherlands, a young Ukrainian physical therapist and mother of a 2-year-old son, spoke of the harrowing journey from her home in the northeastern city of Kharkiv to the country’s western border. “Crossing the border on foot for some people was close to impossible,” Alexandra said. “Some people could not move by themselves, and children who had special needs, such as special utensils to eat with or a special kind of food they required, had to go without. One young girl had to be hospitalized because she was severely dehydrated and had lost so much weight.”

At two global webinars held this spring Alexandra and representatives from humanitarian aid organizations in Europe and North America appealed to the world for financial donations. In addition, they said, there must be a worldwide awareness that people with disabilities in Ukraine are at risk of abandonment and violence.

Alexandra and her son had traveled with families who had children with physical or developmental disabilities. Others had older family members who were disabled or elderly and frail. For lack of room on buses, she said, some travelers weren’t allowed to bring needed equipment to function properly or independently.

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city after Kyiv, has been under intense attack since the invasion began. In attempting to leave the city by way of humanitarian corridors – designated routes agreed upon by Ukrainian and Russian officials for civilians to evacuate – she said, “The Russian soldiers violate the agreements. People were shot trying to find safety. Trains were choked with travelers trying to escape to the western border.”

Alexandra’s experience was not an isolated one. One week after the first webinar, a Russian missile hit a railway station in the city of Kramatorsk, southeast of Kharkiv, where thousands of civilians, mostly women and children, were trying to escape. More than 50 people, including children, were killed and more than 100 injured as they waited for trains to take them to safer regions of Ukraine on their way to bordering countries. And two days before the second webinar, five more railway stations in central and western Ukraine were hit by Russian air strikes within a single hour.

“PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES ARE ALMOST ALWAYS THE LAST GROUP PEOPLE REMEMBER.”

In the United States, Barbara Merrill, CEO of the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR), spoke from her office in Alexandria, Virginia. “People with disabilities are almost always the last group people remember,” she said. “ANCOR has always had to fight to get people with disabilities the help they needed, whether it was Hurricane Katrina or the COVID-19 pandemic. And the war in Ukraine is no different.”

Merrill said that although ANCOR’s purpose is to represent service providers in the Washington, D.C., area, many of their workers work internationally and are taking more interest in aid organizations across the globe. As a result, she said, aid workers and their organizations are becoming more engaged internationally and finding they’ve all experienced difficulty in getting relief aid targeted specifically for people with disabilities.

Just as important as financial donations, Merrill said, is public awareness. Every day she scans news stories about the war and finds coverage of people with disabilities “relatively low” to the number of stories she sees about the war overall. “The amount of media attention is nowhere where it needs to be,” she said.

 “Please get in touch with international organizations or make connections with the press. We are all interconnected, and what is happening to people with disabilities in Ukraine is, if we don’t respond, ultimately what happens to all of us.”

“IT’S HARD TO FIND NEW FACILITIES IN THE FEW AREAS THAT ARE SAFE, AND THERE IS NO PLACE IN UKRAINE THAT CAN BE CONSIDERED SAFE.”

Representing the Ukrainian government, Oksana Zholnovych spoke from the capital city of Kyiv. “The front lines cover a lot of territory, and a lot of people in those areas are people with intellectual and physical disabilities,” she said. “It’s hard to find new facilities in the few areas that are safe, and there is no place in Ukraine that can be considered safe. Cities are constantly being shelled and bombarded. The constant attacks have left civilians with their homes destroyed and without access to food, water, medicine, and other necessities, forcing them to seek refuge in other countries.”

Zholnovych emphasized three areas where help is most needed: getting people with disabilities to safety, saving those with intellectual disabilities, and replacing assistive technology that has been destroyed in the war.

To get people with disabilities to safety, the government has initiated evacuation procedures. Zholnovych said the most convenient way so far has been to send them by railway to the Polish city of Chelm, 15 miles from Ukraine’s western border where they stay until they can be transferred to other countries that are hospitable to refugees.

Saving people with intellectual disabilities is particularly difficult, Zholnovych said. They are especially vulnerable because many don’t have a clear understanding of the war taking place around them. Some, she said, are unable to respond to air raid warnings and don’t understand they must get to a bomb shelter. She also explained that when Soviet control of Ukraine ended in 1991, the new government’s social services department moved people with intellectual disabilities out of large, impersonal institutions into smaller residential buildings. Many of those buildings are in eastern Ukraine where they’ve been under extensive attack since the invasion began. She said there are about 20 facilities with approximately 4,000 residents who still need to be relocated to western Ukraine.

Assistive Technology is also a dire need. Refugees, humanitarian workers, hospitals, and other medical service providers need replacements for equipment that has been destroyed by bombardments of shelling or land mines that are on timers and sensors. For the time being, Zholnovych said, the World Health Organization (WHO) is cooperating with Ukraine to resupply some of this equipment.

“THE WHOLE PROCESS IS VERY COMPLICATED AND EXPENSIVE, AND NOW IN UKRAINE THERE ARE MILLIONS OF PEOPLE ON THE RUN.”

Speaking from The Hague in the Netherlands was Eric Bloemkolk, Director of SOFT tulip [sic], a network of Dutch service providers that has partnered with aid organizations in Ukraine for 15 years. Formed to find housing for people in need, particularly people with disabilities, the elderly, and those with mental health issues, it also provides early childhood intervention as an alternative to institutionalization. It was the organization that found a home for Alexandra, herself a caregiver on an intervention team, and her son.

Bloemkolk said the Netherlands is eager to help refugees, as are Poland, Slovakia, and Germany. But, he said, there are many who can’t get to these countries because there aren’t enough financial resources. He said that while refugees wait to gain entrance to the Netherlands or find a home, SOFT tulip pays for the costs of hotels, transportation, and gasoline. He said, “The whole process is very complicated and expensive, and now in Ukraine there are millions of people on the run.”

Bloemkolk said that with more resources they could help many more people than they have so far. “In a short amount of time,” he said, “living facilities in the Netherlands were emptied and renovated, and within two weeks of the invasion we were able to receive 282 people with disabilities from Ukraine ranging in age from 3-months-old to 82.”

“WE SEE THE TRAUMA, WE SEE THE HORRIBLE VIDEOS AND PHOTOGRAPHS, WE SEE THE BOMBS EXPLODING, AND WE CAN ONLY PONDER HOW ON EARTH TO COPE WITH ALL THESE SITUATIONS.”

James Crowe is President of the European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities. Based in Brussels, the organization represents 20,000 support services for persons with disabilities throughout Europe. Like his colleagues, Crowe says donations are badly needed. He said EASPD will be lobbying the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, and “any national governments we can” for funds.

Throughout the summer, EASPD has been setting up six Temporary Regional Offices (TROs) in Chelm, Poland; Budapest, Hungary; Palanca, Moldova; Isaacea, Romania; Varna, Bulgaria; and Senec, Slovakia, where refugees are being relocated.

Maya Doneva, EASPD’s Secretary General and the person coordinating the project, said the regional offices are necessary to facilitate communication among the different locations and ensure that humanitarian aid reaches people with disabilities. She said they need to have aid workers physically at the spots where people in need of help are. “I think we are slowly realizing on all levels – human, personal, professional – that thoughts and prayers will not alone fix the situation” she said. “It is a good start, but we have to organize and act.”

“People are literally out in the cold with their autistic daughter or disabled son,” Doneva said. “They are six hours from the border with no idea where they’re going. They will actually spend the night out in the open. It is crucial that this situation is not forgotten because this is a humanitarian crisis within a humanitarian crisis.”

PARAQUAD AWARDED $150,000 MODDC GRANT FOR SEXUALITY EDUCATION FOR PEOPLE WITH DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITIES

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Paraquad in St. Louis has been awarded a three-year, $150,000 grant for training advocates and self-advocates to provide comprehensive sexuality education to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, a group often excluded from any discussion of human sexuality.

The grant, awarded by the Missouri Developmental Disabilities Council (MODDC), was announced after the Council reviewed grant proposals from disability rights and service organizations both nationally and state-wide. In awarding the grant to Paraquad, the Council said it was seeking a partner with whom it could create a comprehensive and continuing program in which advocates for people with developmental disabilities, and self-advocates, would be trained to teach sexuality education. Those who receive training will go on to train other advocates and self-advocates, keeping the program ongoing and serving the critical need of providing sexuality education to people with developmental disabilities. This peer model design aligns with independent living philosophy by centering people with disabilities. The training, resources, and materials developed for the program will be shared with other advocacy groups throughout the state.

“The Missouri Developmental Disabilities Council is proud to partner with Paraquad for this important work,” says Leigh Anne Haun, a project coordinator at MODDC. “Paraquad’s vast network and robust outreach efforts will allow both urban and rural Missourians to benefit from this program. Their experience delivering high quality programming makes them an idea partner in this work.”

People with developmental disabilities include those with intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, and Down Syndrome. In addition to being devalued as sexual beings by having little or no access to typical sex education programs, people with disabilities in general are disproportionately impacted by all forms of abuse, including sexual assault. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the rate of violent crime, including rape and sexual assault, for people with disabilities is more than three times the rate for those who are not disabled.

Paraquad recently completed its first sexuality education classes in June. During the four-week course, “Sexual Health & Healthy Relationships,” participants learned about different kinds of relationships and knowing appropriate public and private behavior; making responsible decisions about sexual behavior; avoiding sexual exploitation; practicing proper hygiene and avoiding sexually transmitted diseases; understanding reproduction; and practicing safe sex. Paraquad staff created a safe and supportive space in which to teach the classes, which were well-received by participants and their parents.

MOSILC Survey

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MOSILC has developed this Community Needs Assessment to gather information about your community’s opinions, needs, and challenges for people with disabilities. It is MOSILC’s hope that by gathering this information it will provide MOSILC with important information on how to support people with disabilities within your community.

Take the survey here https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/MOSILCNeedsAssessment2022

Disability Rights Legislative Day

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On Wednesday March 9, hundreds of people with disabilities and their advocates will join a rally marking the 21st Annual “Disability Rights Legislative Day”.  The rally has historically been held in person at the state capitol – this year’s event will be hybrid, both in person and virtual via YouTube.

Key elected officials including the Governor and State Treasurer, as well as legislators and self-advocates will speak at the 11 a.m. rally around the theme “Power in Unity”.  The Governor will proclaim March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month in the State of Missouri.

Speakers and elected officials will address legislation that supports disability rights and inclusion of people with disabilities in their communities – in life, in work, in education. Self-Advocates and advocates from across the state will have the opportunity to share their stories and educate legislators on the issues that matter to them most.

The rally is co-sponsored by a coalition of disability-related organizations from around the state. It was funded through a grant by the Missouri Developmental Disabilities Council (MODDC).

More information is available here: https://drld.org/

Paraquad Hires Local Equity and Inclusion Champion for Development and Marketing Position

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Paraquad Hires Local Equity and Inclusion Champion for Development and Marketing Position

ST. LOUIS (February 2022) — Paraquad has hired Melissa Brickey as Senior Director of Development and Marketing. Brickey has served for the last two and half years as Executive Director of Diversity Awareness Partnership (DAP).melissa brickey has short blond hair. She is wearing a tan turtlneck sweater and a brown blazer.

While at DAP, Brickey ushered the advancement of DAP’s vision of inclusive communities, where diversity is respected and embraced, and equity is the norm. She is thrilled to remain in the equity and inclusion space. An amputee for almost 30 years, and a lifelong advocate for people with disabilities, Brickey is excited to be an integral part of advocating for equity and inclusion for people with disabilities.

“Paraquad’s driving values of dignity, equity, opportunity, inclusion, and self-determination are deeply meaningful to me on a very personal level. I am so incredibly excited and happy to be a part of a mission that is committed to equity and systemic change,” said Brickey.

Brickey is well acquainted with Paraquad’s mission and values, having served on its Board of Directors and the advisory committee for the Stephen A. Orthwein Center since its early conception.  A daily swimmer, she is very committed to equitable access to sports and athletics for people with disabilities.

“Paraquad unabashedly insists that every voice matters as we strive for an integrated society free of barriers and discrimination where disability is viewed as a natural part of human diversity. I look forward to working closely with the Paraquad team to grow and to amplify the voice of and partner with people with disabilities to live their best lives,” said Brickey.

Brickey has had an extensive career in the non-profit sector, focusing on equity and inclusion.  Prior to her position at DAP, Melissa previously served as the Vice President of Advancement for Rosati-Kain High School, and as a Program Director, Operations Director, and Executive Director for De La Salle, Inc.

“We are so excited for Melissa to join our organization. She is an incredible fit and exemplifies our mission and values. As we continue to work toward making independence accessible, Melissa’s work will be a cornerstone on which we build,” said Aimee Wehmeier, Paraquad President.

About Paraquad: Paraquad is a leading disability services provider in the St. Louis region. Paraquad champions equity and independence for people with disabilities through services, partnerships, education, and advocacy.  As one of the oldest Centers for Independent Living in the United States, Paraquad is a pioneer in furthering opportunities for people with disabilities. More than half of Paraquad staff and board members have a disability

ACTION REQUIRED: CONTACT MEMBERS OF HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE ON APPROPRIATIONS-HEALTH, MENTAL HEALTH, AND SOCIAL SERVICES

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Consumer Directed Services Funding Increase

Your voice is needed!

Governor Parson has released his fiscal year 2023 budget.  Now it is time for the Missouri Legislature to begin their work on the budget. we must let our legislators know how important the Consumer Directed Services  (CDS) are to Missourians with disabilities.

Last year, despite the governor’s recommended cuts to CDS, the Missouri Legislature passed a 5.29% increase in funding for the program.  As we know this increase was ultimately vetoed by the Governor. This is unacceptable!  The CDS program provides critical personal care services to nearly 40,000 individuals with disabilities throughout Missouri.  These services allow people to remain safe, healthy, and independent in their own homes.

We are asking advocates across the state to reach out to members of the House Subcommittee on Appropriations-Health, Mental Health, and Social Services to ask them to include additional funding for CDS providers in the  FY23 budget.  This funding is necessary for Missourians with disabilities and seniors to continue to receive quality personal care services in their own homes and for their attendants to receive a living wage for the important work they do.

Here are some sample messages you can use:

Sample Email/Phone/Letter Script – Consumer:

Good afternoon/Dear Representative,

My name is _____________ and I live in _______________. I am a person with a disability and I use Consumer Directed Services to live in my home and participate in my community. Without CDS I would not be able to be independent, and I would have to live in a nursing home, which I do not want to do. Please increase the provider rate so that I can continue to live independently. As minimum wage continues to increase it makes it harder for me to keep attendants, as they can earn more money working at a retail store. Please increase the provider rate so that I can continue to receive CDS, live in my home, and pay attendants a living wage.

Warmly,

________

Sample Email/Phone/Letter Script – Attendant:

Good afternoon/Dear Representative,

My name is _____________ and I live in _______________. I am a personal care attendant for a person with a significant disability. I assist them with activities of daily living such as using the restroom, bathing, getting dressed and eating meals, among other things. Without personal care attendant services, the individual I assist would not be able to live in the community. I enjoy my job, but I do not feel that the wage I am paid is adequate for the service I provide.  It is crucial that the provider rate is increased so attendants, like myself, can be paid a living wage.

Warmly,

___________

Sample Email/Phone/Letter Script – Loved One:

Good afternoon/Dear Representative,

My name is _______ and I live in ___________. My loved one has a significant disability and uses Consumer Directed Services to live independently in the community. I can not afford to quit my job to help them if they do not have an attendant. Please increase the provider rate so that my loved one is able to pay a living wage and continue living in the community.

Warmly,

________

Sample Tweet/Facebook Post – Consumer:

I use CDS to live in my community. My attendant helps me _______, ___________, and _______. Without them I would not be able to live in my own home or work, and my attendant deserves a living wage. Please increase provider rates for CDS. #AdvocateForCDS #MoLeg

Sample Tweet/Facebook Post – Attendant:

I am an attendant through CDS. I help the individual I work for ______, _______, and _________. I love my job, but I could make more money working less hours at a retail store Please increase provider rates so I can earn a living wage. #AdvocateForCDS #MoLeg

Sample Tweet/Facebook Post – Loved One:

Someone I love uses CDS to live independently in their home. I worry about their health and safety if they do not have access to these services. I cannot quit my job to help them; please increase the provider rates so they can live in their home and the attendants that work for them can be paid a living wage. #AdvocateForCDS #MoLeg

Missourians with disabilities want to remain independent in their own homes and the Missouri Legislature needs to prioritize this funding.  Let them know how you feel!

Assistive Technology at Paraquad

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Recently, we hosted Scout Merry from the Missouri Assistive Technology Council for a training on the assistive technology devices we have available for members of the community to try before buying. Between the accessible apartment and computer lab we have several high- and low-tech devices that can make activities of daily living and computer access easier.

Not only does the apartment showcase accessible home modifications, but it also has tools you can test in the kitchen, bedroom, and living area. Kitchen tools include large, handled silverware, nonslip grips, and adaptive knives. Tools you can try in the bedroom area include adaptive writing and reading tools, and a track lift. Some of our writing tools include pens and pencils with different griping devices, a recording pen. Accessible reading tools include a C-Pen, and a magnifier.

The computer lab has a wide variety of keyboards, mice, trackballs, and software you can sample. You can try Dragon Dictate a program that allows you to control your computer with your voice or JAWS a tool that reads the screen to you.

Different tools can be useful for people with many disabilities. Some equipment that works for your friend with a similar disability might not work for you, so as you are searching for new assistive technology have an open mind, ask lots of questions, and don’t be afraid to try something new.

ID: white desk with writing tools and a magnifier.

ID: table with many different magnifiers and adaptive utensils.

ID: four different kinds of mice/trackballs

ACTION REQUIRED: CONTACT GOVERNOR PARSON

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ACTION REQUIRED: CONTACT GOVERNOR PARSON

Consumer Directed Services Funding Increase

Dear Advocate,

Your voice is needed!

Governor Parson will be releasing his fiscal year 2023 budget in the next few months and we must let him know how important the Consumer Directed Services  (CDS) are to Missourians with disabilities.

Last year, Governor Parson recommended a total of a 7.5% decrease in funding for this vital program.  This is unacceptable!  The CDS program provides critical personal care services to nearly 40,000 individuals with disabilities throughout Missouri.  These services allow people to remain safe, healthy, and independent in their own homes.

We are asking Advocates across the state to reach out to Governor Parson to ask him to include additional funding for CDS providers in his FY23 budget.  This funding is necessary for  Missourians with disabilities and seniors to continue to receive quality personal care services in their own homes and their attendants can receive a living wage for the important work they do.

Here is how you can contact Governor Parson:

Phone: (573) 751-3222

Email: https://governor.mo.gov/contact-us

Mail:
Office of Governor Michael L.Parson
P.O. Box 720
Jefferson City, MO 65102

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GovMikeParson/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/GovParsonMO

Sample Email/Phone/Letter Script – Consumer:

Good afternoon/Dear, Governor Parson:

My name is _____________ and I live in _______________. I am a person with a disability and I use Consumer Directed Services to live in my home and participate in my community. Without CDS I would not be able to be independent, and I would have to live in a nursing home, which I do not want to do. Please increase the provider rate so that I can continue to live independently. My attendants deserve a living wage, as they help me with difficult personal tasks. Please increase the provider rate so that I can continue to receive CDS, live in my home, and pay attendants a living wage.

Warmly,

________

Sample Email/Phone/Letter  Script – Attendant

Good afternoon/Dear, Governor Parson:

My name is _____________ and I live in _______________. I am a personal care attendant for a person with a significant disability. I assist them with activities of daily living such as using the restroom, bathing, getting dressed and eating meals, among other things. Without personal care attendant services the individual I assist would not be able to live in the community. I enjoy my job, but I do not feel that the wage I am paid is adequate for the service I provide.  It is crucial that the provider rate is increased so attendants, like myself, can be paid a living wage.

Warmly,

___________

Sample Email/Phone/Letter  Script – Loved One

Good afternoon/Dear  Governor Parson:

My name is _______ and I live in ___________. My loved one has a significant disability and uses Consumer Directed Services to live independently in the community. I can not afford to quit my job to help them if they do not have an attendant. Please increase the provider rate so that my loved one is able to pay a living wage and continue living in the community.

Warmly,

________

Sample Tweet/Facebook Post – Consumer:

I use CDS to live in my community. My attendant helps me _______, ___________, & _______. Without them I would not be able to live in my own home or work, and my attendant deserves a living wage. Please increase provider rates for CDS.

Sample Tweet/Facebook Post – Attendant:

I am an attendant through CDS. I help the individual I work for ______, _______, & _________. I love my job, but I could make more money working less hours at target. Pleas increase provider rates so I can earn a living wage.

Sample Tweet/Facebook Post – Loved One:

Someone I love uses CDS to live independently in their home. I worry about their health & safety if they do not have access to these services. I can not quit my job to help them; please increase the provider rates so they can live in their home and the attendants that work for them can be paid a living wage.

Missourians with disabilities want to remain independent in their own homes and Governor Parson needs to prioritize this funding.  Let him know how you feel!

If you need any additional information or have questions, please contact Briana Conley at Paraquad (314.289.4304 or bconley@paraquad.org).

Best,
Paraquad Public Policy and Advocacy Team

Paraquad Adds Three to Board

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Paraquad Adds Three to Board

ST. LOUIS (November 2021) — Paraquad is pleased to welcome three new members to our Board of Directors: JoAnn Lam, Joseph Bayer, Jr. and Michelle Wieneke. All three began their service in October.

Joe Bayer Jr. Man in grey suit and blue shirt with yellow tie.

After earning a BA in Communication from Truman State University, Joe Bayer, Jr. entered the “real world” working for Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Over the course of 10 years, he went from an entry-level position to a management trainee, where he was “literally cleaning cars while in a business suit” to area rental manager for the mid-county area of St. Louis County. He eventually moved on to First Integrity Mortgage Services as Vice President of Business Development before becoming Executive Vice President.

He held the President position for the Mortgage Bankers’ Association of St. Louis in 2018 and currently sits on the Board of Governors for the MO Mortgage Bankers’ Association.

JoAnn Lam. Woman in red shirt.

JoAnn Lam has been a community advocate and an organizer for the disabled community for over two decades. Her projects in

clude leading a local support group, co-founding and leading a local advocacy group, coordinating with local governments to update ordinances and policies to align with state legislation and the ADA, advocating at a local and state level, and training others to self-advocate.

Prior to becoming a community advocate and organizer, Lam held a variety of positions in various fields, including as a teacher in Missouri and in Europe and as a social worker.

Michelle Wieneke continues a ten-year partnership between Regions Bank and Paraquad. Michelle began her career with Regions Bank in 1989. She started as a teller and in 1998 became a Teller Supervisor. In 2000, she transferred to the Trust Department as an administrative assistant.Michelle L. Wieneke. Woman in dark suit.

After graduating from Cannon Trust School in 2004, she was promoted to Account Administrator. Weineke handles the majority of the Special Needs Trusts, Guardianships and the VA accounts for the Illinois and Missouri offices. Michelle was a 2006 Regions Morgan Keegan Trust Ace Award winner for superior client service and a member of the 2012 Regions Chairman’s Club.

“We’re thankful for our committed board member volunteers who bring diverse perspectives and wonderful energy to our organization,” said Aimee Wehmeier, Paraquad President.

About Paraquad: Founded in 1970, Paraquad is a leading disability services provider in the St. Louis region. One of the oldest Centers for Independent Living in the country, Paraquad’s mission is to champion equity and independence for people with disabilities through services, partnerships, education and advocacy. A key focus is to make St. Louis more accessible for all people by advocating, building awareness, and delivering comprehensive services. As a Center for Independent Living, Paraquad’s Board of Directors, as well as its staff, is comprised of a majority (more than half) of people with disabilities.

Employee Spotlight – Kiland Sampa

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At the age of 15, Kiland Sampa was a strong, athletic student at Parkway North High School, and a championship tennis player who competed in tournaments throughout the country. He was following a family tradition begun by his grandmother. His father and his mother played competitive tennis, and his uncle had earned an athletic scholarship to college.

One evening in 2013, Kiland was at his hotel after playing in a tournament in Indianapolis and decided to go for a swim in the pool. The pool was shallower than he expected, and when he dove in, he broke his neck and crushed his spinal cord. A friend was able to pull him out of the pool and save him from drowning, but Kiland was paralyzed from the waist down.

Today, at 23 and eight years since acquiring a disability, Kiland has adapted his passion for athletics by playing wheelchair tennis and preparing to compete in the 2024 Paralympics in Paris as a member of the wheelchair rugby team. But he is also active in ways that help others who’ve experienced life-altering injuries. He does this by guiding them through the physical and mental challenge of living with a disability.

Kiland knows what’s ahead for them. After his accident, Kiland spent five months at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital as an inpatient and then two years as an outpatient. He remembers the shock of knowing he could never reach his goal of winning future tournaments for which he’d practiced so long, and the initial depression that haunted him. But the physical and recreational therapists at Ranken Jordan changed that. In addition to the daily physical therapy he received, he was treated as part of a caring family who made him feel at home. Over time, he learned how to embrace a new life with a disability. Much of this was done, he said, by being kept busy, even when he wasn’t in physical therapy sessions.

“The therapists at Ranken Jordan had a huge impact on me. I was seen as being a member of their family and saw how people with disabilities could benefit from their help.” He says his therapist treated him like a son or a best friend.

“Physical therapy helps us become strong and independent, but it is hard. I didn’t like therapy itself, but my therapists made me like coming to see them.”

Kiland continues to keep himself busy by helping others who have disabilities. While attending school to become a recreational therapist, Kiland works part-time at Paraquad as a Peer Specialist.

Through the Peer Mentor program, Kiland matches people with disabilities who are seeking guidance with volunteer mentors who have similar disabilities. It’s often hard for people to accept their disabilities, and they may experience feelings of isolation, sadness, and a lack of hope. Taking things one step at a time, the mentors help those participating in the program to set personal goals and achieve them.

“When you watch them advance their abilities and achieve each goal, it is an amazing thing to see,” he says.

Kiland also volunteers at Ranken Jordan, the Disabled Athletic Sports Association (DASA), and Washington University School of Medicine.

While the people he helps at Paraquad are adults, at Ranken Jordan he works with children, including a boy of 10 years of age who was injured in a car accident that had killed both of his parents. He says that children also struggle with trauma and adjusting to living with a disability.

“A lot of kids think they can’t do things,” Kiland explains.

Kiland says that living with a disability is never easy. He knows firsthand the frustration, depression, and physical exertion that comes with getting through the day. And he shares those insights with the participants he serves at Paraquad. But in the end, he chooses a positive perspective.

“Why be sad and depressed when you have the ability to live life and be happy?”