Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month
Posted Mar 4, 2013 00:00
I have great admiration for anyone with a disability. On the university campus where I serve as President, we have the Jones Learning Center, an education center specifically for students with disabilities. I was initially drawn to the campus because of the Jones Learning Center, and I have great respect for the students enrolled in the program. My respect was nurtured many years ago.
(Portrait by Jolie Leeds)
Author Rick D. Niece
A young trick-or-treater brings
the Side-Yard Superhero to life.
When I was nine years old, I took over a paper route with 72 customers in my small hometown of DeGraff, Ohio (pop.900). On my route was a young man, Bernie Jones, who had severe cerebral palsy. Bernie was wheelchair-bound and had no control over any part of his body. He spent his days confined in his small side yard. Bernie did not attend school as this was before classes were offered for students with special needs. My daily newspaper ritual involved reading Bernie the Dick Tracy comic strip and telling him about my day in school. Over the years that I delivered Bernie his paper and our friendship grew, I marveled at his sense of humor and positive attitude. In all those years, I never heard him complain about anything.
Most of our time together took place in Bernie's side yard. That, however, did not limit his uninhibited imagination for what he would like to be able to do. In the book, Side-Yard Superhero, I describe my friendship with Bernie Jones. I was able to expand his small side-yard world by taking him on a few adventures. One day I wheeled Bernie around with me on my paper route, and even pulled him up one of the steepest hills in DeGraff. That was quite an adventure! Another time Bernie asked me to teach him how to play horseshoes. I brought my family's set of horseshoes and stakes to his side yard, and we played several games. That was a fun time with a fun outcome. One of my favorite times with Bernie was when we were invited into the house of DeGraff's reclusive Miss Lizzie Moore to pass out Halloween treats. That may have been the most memorable Halloween in Bernie's life. I know it was mine. I was also able to take Bernie to a downtown carnival that was travelling through DeGraff. I shared his first carnival ride and funnel cake with him on that adventure.
Bernie Jones never let cerebral palsy get in the way of his living a full and meaningful life. He was encircled in optimism and not entrenched in pessimism, even though he had a right to be pessimistic. His positive influence has stayed with me throughout my lifetime and motivates me each day during my career as an educator. I am who I am because of Bernie Jones. To this day, he remains my Side-Yard Superhero.