“Just because you can’t independently care for yourself doesn’t mean you can’t independently live.”
Those words were spoken by Shanell Nieves, special guest speaker, at The Annual Champions of Independence Luncheon held last week at Maceli’s in Lawrence.
Phil Bradley was the master of ceremonies for the luncheon where over 125 gathered to honor people for their efforts helping those in our community with disabilities.
At the age of 12, Nieves was diagnosed with limb-girdle muscular dystrophy. Nieves, while working full-time at an insurance company in Leavenworth, began hosting luncheons to educate people about muscular dystrophy. Nieves now serves as a volunteer for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, assisting with the MDA Telethon, Muscle Walks and other events and also frequently speaks on behalf of the MDA. For her work, Nieves received the Kansas’ 2011 Robert Ross Personal Achievement Award, which is the MDA’s highest honor.
She is also a wife, step-mother of two, and recent adoptive mother of three small children. “Honestly I think the most difficult obstacle [isn’t] working or raising the three kids. It’s the little things like not being able to use the bathroom when I want to,” Nieves said. “It’s the little things you don’t think about.”
The first to be honored as a Champion of Independence was Kansas State Senator Tom Holland.
“Throughout his legislative career, Senator Holland has shown that he understands the importance of making sure that people with disabilities have the funding they need to help better their lives so they can make contributions to their communities,” said Stacey Hunter Schwartz, executive director of Independence, Inc.
Holland believes that it’s important for the state to invest in providing services for those groups who need assistance, both to help members of those groups and also to improve the state’s overall economic climate.
“I would urge my fellow senators to take a close look at organizations like Independence, Inc. and learn more about the mission of those groups and how they benefit consumers and also the Kansas community [as a whole],” Holland said.
The second honoree was Independence, Inc. volunteer youth mentor, Pat Slimmer, owner of Slimmer Automotive Service. “I’ve always worked on cars since a young age, and one thing I learned really early on is hard work,” Slimmer said. “That’s probably the most important thing I can convey to the kids.”
And Slimmer has certainly done so. He has worked with over 39 disabled children throughout his years of Disability Mentoring Day. Slimmer’s compassion is one of many reasons that he is such an outstanding role model and inspiration for the kids that he mentors. What truly makes Slimmer stand out is how much he cares about the kids. Not only does he provide an example for them, but he also takes the time to learn about their disabilities so he is able to give them personalized advice.
“I have no doubt that when Pat is 60, and if I’m still doing this program I’ll call him up and he’ll say, ‘How many kids are you sending?’ and I’ll say ’50.’ And he’ll probably say ‘Sure, we’ll work it out. And there’s no finer person to do so,” Independence, Inc. employee, Ranita Wilks said.
Since 1978, Independence, Inc. has served as a resource in Lawrence and Northeast Kansas through our mission of providing advocacy, services, and education for people with disabilities and our communities. As an Independent Living Center, we work with people with varying disabilities to live in the environments of their choice, and we offer options, resources and advocacy to help people live fulfilling lives.
Our mission is to provide advocacy, services, and education for people with disabilities and our communities. Our vision is to work together in transforming our communities to be the best places in which people with disabilities can live, learn, and work.