MOUNT VERNON — The selfless efforts and generous donations of numerous Mount Vernon area residents will soon be making life easier for Michael Smith. Paralyzed since birth and spending his whole life in a wheelchair, Smith has been confined to his house, with the exception of needing assistance from a helper to go outside.
Well that will soon be changing. Connie Berger, stepmother of Smith’s niece Jenny Allnut, came up with an idea of having a wheelchair ramp built at Smith’s house to allow him to go outside on his own. So Berger went to work, organizing volunteers and finding a builder for the ramp. She first contacted some fellow employees at Interim Healthcare to assist with the project.
A contractor who spearheaded the work wished to remain anonymous, wanting the attention to be on Smith and not himself. A number of individuals from Interim Healthcare contributed to this project. Michael Norman of Interim Healthcare in Newark donated much of the $2,000 needed for materials and supplies. Cole Hoeflich, son of Interim Healthcare employee Bridgett Hoeflich, donated his time to help construct the ramp. Susan Hamman, vice president, and Christy Pratty, social worker, each made numerous telephone calls in finding volunteers for the project.
The ramp itself is nearly complete, with a small section near the bottom yet to be finished. The next step will be to install a doorway from the house as an entrance onto the ramp. “I think this is great,” said Smith. “If it weren’t for Connie, I certainly wouldn’t have this.”
Additional projects are now being looked at to assist Smith even further. A remodeling of the bathroom is being considered, in making the shower and toilet handicap accessible. Options are also being explored in obtaining a motorized wheelchair for Smith who has always been in a manual wheelchair.
Smith lives with his brother, Jim, who is his caretaker. His sister, Sandy Berger, also lives nearby and helps out as well. Nurses and aides also visit periodically to help out as well as a physical therapist for therapy sessions.
“I’ll soon be able to go out on my own,” said Smith, smiling with anticipation. Until then, he has the help of family and many friends. “There certainly are a lot of good people out there,” added Sandy Berger.