Special to The City Sentinel
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – A leg-shattering injury while he fought in Vietnam made Jack Werner aware of handicapped-accessibility needs at a young age. His commitment has continued throughout his life. Last month, Werner, a South Oklahoma City Rotarian and owner of A to Z Inspections, and Midwest City Rotarian Mac Patel, owner of Alrays Valet Cleaners, spearheaded a fundraiser to build a handicapped-accessible ropes course at a local Rotary youth camp.
The $1,000-a-plate event benefited the Rotary Youth Leadership Academy (RYLA). It followed last year’s efforts by Werner and Patel that raised $12,000 for storage buildings at the camp. Malarkey Roofing donated roofing for the buildings.
Recalling his experience of being medevacked out of Vietnam and fully recovering from his injuries, Werner recognized several of his fellow soldiers weren’t so lucky. “When I went to my first Ranger reunion I called home and said it looks like a prosthetics convention,’’ Werner said. “So, I certainly had a first-hand, close acquaintance with those needs.”
Werner became one of the first instructors for the NAHB Certified Aging in Place (CAPS) and Universal Design and Build (UDB) courses. Werner noted that 1/3 of Americans live with or know well someone who lives with a disability serious enough to affect their daily life.
“I see from personal experience and from teaching CAPS and UDB that all of us benefit from accessibility. All of us would like our businesses to be visitable. Wouldn’t we want all young people to be able to have the same opportunities at summer camp?”
Rotarians bring resources to RYLA program, to help young people
Derrick Warnock, Director of Programming for Central Oklahoma Camp & Conference Center where RYLA is held, related that he was a RYLA camper in 2007. Campers are sophomores and can return as ‘trailblazers’ to help as camp counselors/workers, then senior counselors and elders.
“Being a fully accessible camp can actually change a lot of lives,’’ said Warnock. “Whether you have autism or whether you’re in a wheelchair, if you’re 40 feet in the air, jumping off that zipline is one of the most exciting things you can do.”
The camp now has enough funding to build a tower and two zip lines. The ropes course will be built in phases over the next three to five years. “It will be a whole new ropes course every year,” Warnock said.
Willis Washington, South OKC Rotarian and consultant for Adaptive Solutions & Consulting, paralyzed from the waist down in a motorcycle accident eight years ago, said, “For me it’s all about making sure everybody has the same opportunity and has access to things an able-bodied person has. I’m personally excited about this because it’s thinking outside the box. This is to me the way things should be. People should be able to hang out together and feel normal. I understand what individuals go through on a day-to-day basis. Just to do simple things is more challenging. I think this will bring an opportunity to get out of the home and be more active. It will help a lot of people.”
Kevin Richardson, West Oklahoma City Rotarian and Director of Special Markets for Feed the Children, said Feed the Children is making a contribution of at least $1,000 worth of food for this summer’s session. “We want to be able to support the work that RYLA is doing to change the lives of young adults all across Oklahoma,” Richardson said. “I’m excited to be a part of it this summer and, hopefully, many more summers to come.”
Werner and fellow Rotarians organize support for camp accessibility
Chuck Musgrave, founder and member of the Bricktown OKC Rotary Club and past District 5750 Governor, said kids at the RYLA campers’ ages are still struggling to come out of their shells. He said the effort is achievable, modest in its objectives. “Kids in these programs who have felt they were outsiders find out they are not.”
Werner and Patel hosted the fundraiser. Key attendees included South Oklahoma City Rotarian Todd Feehan, owner of Dad’s Plumbing and Drain Service; Fred Ayers, a partner in Home Inspections Training Specialists, and his wife Marilyn; Ward 2 City Council candidate Suzanne Broadbent; Kevin Richardson, West Oklahoma City Rotarian and Director of Special Markets for Feed the Children; Derrick Warnock, Director of Programming for Central Oklahoma Camp & Conference Center; Willis Washington, South OKC Rotarian and consultant for Adaptive Solutions & Consulting; Chuck Musgrave, founder and member of the Bricktown OKC Rotary Club and past District 5750 Governor; Ken Newey, Midwest City Rotarian and owner of Tinker Tag Agency in Midwest City, and Dawn Mahiya, president of SOKC Rotary, and her husband Rick. Mahiya presented $1,000 from the SOKC Rotary. Newey paid an extra $1,000 as penance for misplaced faith in a certain football team.
Others unable to attend but donating $1,000 were Terry Matthews of TMI Construction; Jeff Gabelsberg, owner of Garage Door Solutions and Rotary District 5750 RYLA chair: and SOKC Rotarian Harry Patel, owner of several local hotels. Northwest OKC Rotary Club also supported the effort with a $1,000 contribution.
RYLA is located at the Central Oklahoma Camp & Conference Center, a rental facility that serves over 10,000 people annually. Amenities include conference facilities with food service, seven cabins with 118 beds and 12 cabins with 112 beds. Other amenities are a swimming pool, high/low elements challenge course, waterfront, fishing, canoeing and paddle boating, archery and paintball, laser tag, hayrides, walking trails, horseshoe and bocce pits and fire pits.
The camp serves individuals 6 and up with special needs, providing outdoor recreational activities through adaptive equipment and environment, respite for families, arts and crafts, water activities, dancing, talent show, archery, paintball and more. For information, visit centralokcamp.org or call 405-282-2811.
How to help this project
The Rotarians welcome contributions from interested members of the Oklahoma City community. Checks may be mailed c/o 4200 Rock Canyon Road, Edmond, OK 73025 and should be made out to the Rotary District 5750 Foundation Inc. Potential donors are encouraged to explore with their accountants how to make donations through non-taxable withdrawals from retirement accounts.
NOTE: Stacy Martin, former editor of The City Sentinel, is an independent journalist.