Every since I was young my Aunt Paula was in a wheelchair, that's just how it was. In fact, she had been in a wheelchair since very young due to a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. This meant being able to “ride” on the battery pack in the back or having races to see if you could beat Aunt Paula to the end of the block. I remember fighting with my brother and cousin over who got to work the electric ramp, or who got to push her up the ramp in the front of the house.
By far her favorite activity was going down to the coffee shop: Java Bay. The crew at the shop would welcome her in, get her to to usual table, and make sure she was comfortable. What the shop would also do was sell her greeting cards, cards that she made for all seasons and occasions. Sitting at her computer Paula would design cards using voice-software that would type for her, a skill which she was not able to do on her own. All the money from the sales would come back to Paula, often leaving the shop in the form of baked goods and iced tea. When I moved to Denver for school, I still got cards from Paula in the mail, cards personalized to the occasion and my love of Cleveland Sports. Brown’s helmets would grace the birthday cards, and a baseball the graduation and good grade versions.
Card making gave Paula an outlet, an opportunity for her to give back and create by placing a smile on a face. At the heart of her work was an opportunity to create a place that was her own, while finding tasks where she could be independent and connect with the broader community. When my mom reached out to me about A Place 2 Be Me Paula was the first story that popped into my head. A person, a human being, whom was unable to find “typical” employment, or to fit in with normal everyday living. These creative outlets gave her a feeling of fulfilment, a way to give back, and a way to support those around her. What A Place 2 Be ME wants to do is create more Paula stories, or rather, to help people like Paula tell/create their own stories.
- Jon Denzler
As an autistic young man, dealing with the stress involved in navigating the complex social and interpersonal situations that make up everyday life was almost impossible. To help manage the monstrous levels of stress, Pam Denzler instructed me in numerous activities meant to balance body and mind, including Brain Gym calisthenics, various quasi-juggling techniques involving bean bags and bouncing rubber balls, and music listening regimens. These enabled me to control and regulate my stress, which then allowed me to participate in society to a reasonable degree without fear of becoming overwhelmed. Perhaps most importantly, I was able to build a deep, personal connection with Pam. Such opportunities are few and far between for “high-functioning” autistic people such as myself.
Pam may be my mother, but I know that is not the only reason why she was able to help me. I have seen her in action with everyone from preschool students to aging nursing home residents, and time and time again she has been able to hone in on their individual needs and provide them the support and kindness they needed.
When Mom first approached me with the idea for A Place 2B Me, I wondered why no one had done anything like it before. As someone with challenges, it would have been fantastic to have access to a community of people with similar issues and concerns to use as a jumping off point into the world at large.