Friday, May 17, 2013

Rocking, Rollin' in Appreciation of Caregivers

The human spirit can’t be stifled, held behind bricks of a large institution, or restrained by a disability, not when there is hope and beauty in life.

It knows no bounds as was evidenced at the 2013 Macomb-Oakland Regional Center Caregiver Appreciation Day and Kohl’s Caregiver’s Fashion Show at the Palazzo Grande banquet hall in Shelby Township. Thursday’s event drew some 1,100 people from Southeastern Michigan to watch people with disabilities roll and stroll down a runway in $25,000 worth of the latest fashion clothes donated by Kohl’s.
Rodney Perry, 51, knows the lows of being disabled in America. Perry is a survivor. He was born with a disability, spent decades in state institutions for the mentally and physically disabled, but moved to his own place in 1987 and now lives Beverly Hills with around-the-clock care.

He had the attendees at the show rocking and swaying to the music as he danced his power wheelchair down the runway, spinning in circles and moving in a zig-zag pattern with more enthusiasm and joy than those seen in Milan or Paris.
“I love it,” said Perry, who is looking forward to working at an auto parts company in the near future after spending most of his life in the Plymouth Center. “It shows what we really can do in a positive way.”

Susan Cuddington of Utica has been caring for two disabled men in her home for 32 years and came to the event with her sister, Deb, and other family members.
“It’s fantastic to honor these people (caregivers),” she said. “Caregiving, at times, is hard, but it is very rewarding.”

Since the early 1970s, MORC and other entities began moving people out of state institutions where the disabled were housed and out into the community with caregivers 24/7 or as needed. Each time a person left a bed vacant in one of the 12 institutions in the state, it saved taxpayers thousands of dollars a month. Now, these places have closed. The disabled live in their own places and thousands of jobs have been created for caregivers.
“This is the largest event of appreciation for caregivers in the country,” said Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, who stood and watched as more than 90 people with disabilities went down the runway with their caregivers besides them.

“This is so uplifting to see people with disabilities model high fashion,” he said. Being a caregiver is a “calling” and through events like this we learn about compassion.
He’s right.

Amanda Woodin, 22, said she only has been a caregiver for five months and “I already know what I want to do. I want to be a caregiver for life.”
She is a caregiver to Mark Stilwell and his wife, Micki, who live in Madison Heights after spending years in an institution. It was unheard of a couple of decades ago for two disabled people to be married but now it is a dream come true for many like Mark and Micki.

“I can remember how they just let me lay in a bed in Lapeer and how I developed bed sores,” said Mark, who added he never imagined being able to be married, live in his own home, and wake up each morning with anticipation instead of dread.
“You, as caregivers, are the water that lets the flower bloom,” a poem read before the fashion show began said.

One young lady dressed in a beautiful pink outfit threw kisses to the cheering audience as the words of a song, “You are so beautiful...” played in the background.
Each runway participant was able to choose his or her own song. One said: “He doesn’t want his name up in lights; he just wants to be heard.”

And, the hundreds in the hall, more than heard the voices of both the caregivers and models as they rose in waves to cheer and applaud as each person moved down the runway.
“This is a great day for people to celebrate” their accomplishments,” said Liz Bauer, a former member of the state Board of Education and a pioneer of the disability rights movement in Michigan. “What you are seeing is a gallery of the move beautiful people in the world.”

Jerry Wolffe is the Disability Rights Advocate at Large/Writer in Residence at MORC Inc.