Thanks to the combined forces of two Oregon agencies that assist disabled working adults, longtime Portland area resident and quadriplegic Ed Kerns is back to the business of tree planting along the Springwater Corridor within the Lents neighborhood- a project he started over ten years ago. “Just in time too. My old van had 320,000 miles on it and was 20 years old and rusting out terribly. It died just before my new van was completed,” says Kerns in a thank you email to Mobility Unlimited of Medford.
Kerns, who is paralyzed from the chest down due to a spinal cord injury, was not about to be stuck at home shackled to his wheelchair. As an environmental consultant, he works with kids from challenged neighborhoods who volunteer for him – kids from schools like Clinton Kelly Elementary and Marshall High. There were sites to prepare, trees to plant, and he needed to keep on rolling. His “kids” depend on him. But, his 1985 Dodge Caravan was in such a sad state of decay that even his lifelong mechanic, David Hodge, advised that he would no longer be able to work on the van. Ed would have to get a replacement van and in Ed’s case, that meant not just any van, but a fully equipped, wheelchair accessible van with a motorized lift and special hand controls so he could continue working and maintaining his independence. The cost was enormous-over $50,000 and way out of range for Ed’s meager budget.
Ed contacted Mobility Unlimited, a non-profit organization in Medford that assists physically disabled working adults with mobility equipment. “Ed fit our criteria perfectly,” says Glory Cooper, Executive Director of Mobility Unlimited. “He was an adult, a resident of Oregon, was working, and needed mobility equipment; the only challenge was that he didn’t have a safe, reliable van to equip.” Cooper went on to say, “Unfortunately, transportation is a major hurdle for the physically disabled- especially in severe cases such as Ed’s. Mobility Unlimited committed to initial funding and agreed to spearhead the project. The balance of funding had to come from another source and it had to come quickly- Ed’s current old van was practically soldered together.”
In an effort to get some much needed assistance for Ed, Mobility Unlimited contacted the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation in Portland about a possible partnership. From the beginning, the project was going to require some creative funding. According to Connie Foster, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, “the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation Services rarely purchases vans for clients anymore. This project would have to qualify for special needs funding out of Salem.” After some time, but now armed with Mobility Unlimited as a partner, Connie’s manager was able to get the project pushed through for funding.
According to Cooper, “Now, more than ever, people need the services of organizations like Mobility Unlimited and the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. It’s going to be necessary for agencies to partner up and get folks taken care of. In May of 2005 the Center for Medicare and Medicaid failed yet again to address the “in-the-home” restriction portion of their policy - meaning that if you can get around in your home with your old manual wheelchair, then that’s good enough. For some disabled people, no motorized equipment means no job, no school, no church, and no community involvement. What kind of a life is that?”