Paraquad on Tuesday began construction of its new 22,000-square-foot Accessible Health and Wellness Center, which will enable up to 500 people with disabilities to achieve their fitness goals each year.
“In 2014, we started fundraising for expansion of the Center. We thought it could take us three years to raise $1.5 million, the amount needed to begin construction. We are very pleased to be here today, with over $1.6 million raised, including Paraquad’s first $1 million gift, to start construction 18 months ahead of schedule,” said Aimee Wehmeier, executive director and CEO of Paraquad.
Paraquad has offered a health and wellness program since 2004, when it was founded as the Enabling Mobility Center through a collaboration with Washington University School of Medicine and with funding provided by the Missouri Foundation for Health.
“The initial goal was to develop a program that offered a supported environment for people with disabilities to exercise in order to help increase their independence. When grant funding ended in 2008, Paraquad kept the project going, seeing its benefits to the people it serves,” said Paraquad board chairman Dr. Kerri Morgan.
Morgan said those benefits include increased strength, increased endurance, decreased pain and greater independence in the community.
“In other words, the program worked. But it also presented a problem: its benefits were limited by size,” she said.
The program’s current space — roughly 2,500 square feet — no longer meets the demand by Paraquad participants. About 125 participants use the facility annually, with up to 100 more on a waiting list at any one time.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay praised Paraquad for being the only organization in St. Louis providing this type of facility.
“Paraquad certainly is an expert on realizing and serving the needs of people with disabilities so they can be more involved in our community and accomplish their personal goals. The value of that cannot be overstated,” he said.
The expanded Center will feature a highly trained, experienced staff and more than 40 pieces of specialized exercise equipment that have been adapted to more easily allow people with disabilities to work out.
“This is a huge step forward in realizing a dream to help people with all types of disabilities in our community. People who have had strokes, spinal cord injuries, or who have multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy, as well as people who are blind or deaf can become and stay healthy,” said Morgan, who is also an instructor in occupational therapy and neurology at Washington University School of Medicine and a Paralympian.
Paraquad’s partnership with Washington University School of Medicine is ongoing.
“Paraquad leadership, staff and participants provide us with the opportunity to train occupational therapy and physical therapy students to recognize human potential, enhance accessibility within the community and help increase independence for people with disabilities,” said Dr. Carolyn Baum, a professor of occupational therapy, neurology and social work at Washington University School of Medicine.
Additionally, in 2013, Logan University opened the Logan University Chiropractic Clinic at Paraquad. Each semester, a new rotation of student interns, under the supervision of university instructors, provide hands-on chiropractic treatment to Paraquad participants.
“The ability to educate future practitioners is very important to us. Without partnerships like this, we wouldn’t be able to do the job we’re able to do: to help young chiropractic students have the opportunity to come and understand, and treat and work, with folks with different disabilities,” said Dr. David Parish, director of the Human Performance Centers at Logan University.
The Accessible Health and Wellness Center, located at 5200 Berthold Ave. (directly behind Paraquad’s main facility on Oakland Ave.), has a total project cost of $3.3 million. It is scheduled to open in June 2016.
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About Paraquad: Founded in 1970, Paraquad is the 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 empower people with disabilities to increase their independence through choice and opportunity. A key focus is to make St. Louis more accessible for all people by advocating, building awareness and delivering comprehensive services.
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