News & Events
Standing tall in a home of her own
By the Midland Daily News Midland Daily News
Posted: Monday, April 9, 2012 10:30 am
Updated: 10:58 am, Sun Apr 8, 2012.
By Alex Barker
for the Daily News
Some people can stand tall, even while sitting.
For Jennifer Gentile, life changed when she started learning from negative situations and making them into positives. It's the kind of thinking that leads a girl out of foster care, through cerebral palsy, and into dreams, like owning her own home.
I got to know Gentile through a conversation at her home. At her front door I was greeted by a kind lady in an electric wheelchair and I asked if Jennifer was home before mentioning that I was supposed to talk to her. These are the kind of things that can happen when you initially meet people via a phone call. She laughed before maneuvering her wheelchair back and down the smooth, wooden floors of her new home and explaining to me a few quick things I should know about cerebral palsy.
A short, over-simplified explanation of cerebral palsy is that it is a muscle disorder that makes one side of the body have more difficulty functioning than the other, and it is something one is born with. In Gentile's case, the left side of her body has very little motor skill.
Once we talked a little, I got the sense that I was dealing with a highly motivated person. Every once in awhile you'll meet a person that is electric to talk with, eyes lighting up anytime you mention adversity, passion, opportunity, or any keyword having to do with success and hard work. Every person in the world says they believe in, and really like themselves, but few actually embody the words.
Through our talks, I learned that Gentile loves dramatic and true stories. This is the extremely shortened story of her time with The Arc of Midland and what it has meant for her, those around her, and, by the end of this, you.
Gentile first met The Arc's executive director, Jan Lampman, in 1998 when her foster mother, Sandy Moe, contacted the organization. At that time, Gentile was in a nursing home, and she was starting to lose hope that she'd ever achieve her dream of owning a home.
Lampman helped Gentile get in touch with Carol Wallace, a supervisor with the Midland office of Community Mental Health of Central Michigan, or CMHCM. Lampman and Wallace introduced Gentile to the concept of self determination, in which every person, regardless of his or her abilities, should be able to make decisions and control their destiny.
"To me, self determination is having a dream, and finding all the possible ways to accomplishing that dream," Gentile said. "You have to voice what you want. That's the first step in achieving a dream. Then you have to go to the right people to make that happen."
Gentile worked with The Arc of Midland on different ways to become more independent in her home and the community.
"I don't know if you know this, but a lot of counties don't offer the same staffing opportunities that Midland does. I have plenty of staff that can work the hours I need," Gentile said of the support team built around her. "The hardest part, and The Arc's made this easier, is learning how to manage your staff, so that you can be the most independent you can be. You can do what you want, but you need others to help you do that. Jan has taught me that, just because you can't do it by yourself, doesn't mean you can't accomplish it."
The Arc was showing Gentile how to best use her staff as a tool to support her needs and wants when Lampman delivered the good news. Lampman explained that Gentile would be receiving Social Security money, and that she would be eligible to own her own home. Next, Lampman told Gentile about the building trade program through Midland Public Schools that was building barrier-free, zero step design houses.
Bill Brown, supervisor of the MPS building program, met with Gentile, Lampman and Michelle Vouaux, an Arc employee that helped make sure Gentile's benefits got approved. Brown was just as excited as Gentile to get started on the house, and soon Gentile was helping to design the house.
Gentile was able to secure funds through a state program and Kristin Parsell, Gentile's support coordinator at CMHCM, helped Gentile through every step of the process. The City of Midland also offered Gentile a grant through the CHOICE program, which is designed to create housing opportunities for those in need, to help her purchase the land to build on.
Now, Gentile works three days a week at the Arnold Center, a place where people with disabilities can earn money by helping to manufacture products. Gentile noted that a major misconception that people without disabilities have is that those with disabilities cannot contribute to the community and be as productive.
"The secret is setting goals, and communication," Gentile said. "The Arc really does care. They look out for safety and independence. If what you want can be done, they will help you do it in a safe manner."
Ironically, Gentile admits that she is not the kind of person that can just sit around, so when she does have downtime she will often travel and do work as a motivational speaker to others with disabilities. Her message is always about dreams and patience.
"If you work hard and want something, it will happen," she said. "It may not happen overnight, but it will happen."
It's this kind of attitude that makes a woman sitting in a chair stand so tall in the living room of her new home.
-- Alex Barker is an intern at The Arc of Midland. He manages The Arc's Twittwer account at @thearcofmidland and is a marketing major at Northwood University.
Universally accessible canoe/kayak launches open
Posted: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 12:00 pm
Isenhart, fresh from his first-ever solo boating adventure Thursday, had exchanged his wheelchair for a kayak, swapped solid land for flowing water.
It’s an experience members of the Access to Recreation Committee of the Midland Area Community Foundation (Isenhart co-chairs the committee) hope will be repeated many times at the facility and two others in Midland County.
The launches are now operating; formal dedication is set for Friday, June 8, at the Tridge.
In addition to the downtown site near the Farmer’s Market, access facilities have been installed at Sanford Lake Park on the lake, and on Chippewa Nature Center’s Universal Access Site on Chippewa River Road, 0.3 miles west of Meridian Road, on the Chippewa River.
All were funded through a Kellogg Foundation grant matched by several local sources. The river access project followed creation of a paved nature trail at the West Midland Family Center, and the Oasis Spray Park at the Midland Community Center.
Isenhart’s expedition, in which he was attended by Tom Lenon and Curt Holsinger, both of the Chippewa Nature Center, came just before a dedication-planning meeting of the Access to Recreation Committee on the dock the event will celebrate.
Most kayakers and canoeists will tell you that the trickiest, most treacherous parts of a voyage are the beginning and end: getting into the boat from dry land, and climbing back out of the craft at journey’s end.
That’s where you’re most likely to wobble on legs-gone-to-sleep, stumble on unseen underwater hazards, flip your vessel by moving the wrong way, or slide on a sloped and slimy surface and take a dip.
That’s if you’re of average agility, or a little better.
If your mobility is compromised, it can be a nearly impossible task, daunting enough to keep you ashore.
Although the Tittabawassee, Chippewa and Pine rivers are great recreational resources, CNC Executive Director Dick Touvel said, “Unless you’re very athletic, it’s hard to actually use (them).”
Consider a research trip taken by members of the local committee last year. Eight people dragged a canoe, with Isenhart aboard, 20 feet up a river bank. “That highlighted the need for me,” said Chris Tointon, CEO of the Greater Midland Community Centers.
It’s to avoid those kinds of obstacles to outdoor recreation that several Midland-area organizations pooled their efforts to place the three launch facilities on area rivers.
The Access to Recreation Committee includes representatives of the Arnold Center, The Arc of Midland, CNC, City of Midland, Disability Network of Mid-Michigan, Midland Area Community Foundation, Midland Community Center, Midland County Parks and Recreation and West Midland Family Center.
Local funding came through The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation, the Midland Area Community Foundation, the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network (WIN), The Dow Chemical Co., Midland Rotary Club, Midland Kiwanis Foundation and Kiwassee Kiwanis Foundation.
The facilities, which the committee helped design with landscape architect Pam Blough of PM Blough, Inc., and Missouri-based EZ-Dock company, feature floating dock sections leading to float-mounted rollers flanked by handrails.
The watercraft is pulled onto the rollers, where the paddler can step directly into the boat, or first sit on a slide-able bench and then drop into the boat.
The handrails provide a way to propel oneself down the rollers and into the water.
Lenon, who leads kayak and canoe trips for CNC, said there’s another advantage: “You can float (in the kayak or canoe) while still holding onto the rails, get everything adjusted and get used to the feel” of the floating watercraft.
Ramps leading to the facilities are designed for easy access to those in wheelchairs or using other mobility assistance.
Wheelchair use is an obvious barrier to conventional paddlecraft launching. But so, too, are increasingly common conditions such as hip and knee replacements, back injuries and other issues.
Committee members are betting that a variety of Midlanders will echo Roger Isenhart’s proud statement, “I did it!” at the end of a local voyage.