When a class of Brenau University students graduated at the Georgia Mountains Center last year, four men lifted a classmate in her wheelchair onto the stage to accept her diploma.
This year, a group of occupational therapy students decided to change the graduation experience for their physically disabled peers.
The Brenau Occupational Therapy Student Association started raising funds to buy a portable wheelchair lift that can be used in venues around Gainesville.
“As occupational therapy students, we’re here to promote accessibility and living life as full as you can,” said Elyse Cobb, a senior at Brenau and treasurer of the association. “Everyone should be able to live normally and independently, and this is a great way to give back to the community.”
The group held several events on campus to raise funds and auctioned a signed Philadelphia Flyers hockey jersey at its national conference in Philadelphia.
“We have a student whose uncle plays for that team, so that was really nice to do,” Cobb said. “We’ll do the events again next year and stay dedicated to raising these funds.”
The group raised $350 this year. Wheelchair lifts cost between $5,000 and $15,000, and the group is looking at a particular portable brand that costs $10,000.
“This is doable, and we’re going to continue this effort,” said Jenene Craig, the group’s faculty adviser and an assistant professor of occupational therapy at Brenau.
“The most rewarding part of this is watching the community’s interest in
supporting the group,” she said. “The students have no expectation of what they’ll get back, and I enjoy watching what they’re receiving as part of the experience.”
Group members recently gave a presentation to the Gainesville City Council, where council members invited them to visit the Civitan Club and Rotary Club as well.
“I’d simply like to say how exciting this is,” councilwoman Myrtle Figueras said. “One person touching another person’s life makes life worth living.”
The group also will work with the Georgia Mountains Center to explore grant opportunities to fund the lift, said center director Carol Moore.
“They’ve worked really hard in this endeavor, and we really appreciate that,” Moore said. “This can be used in many venues, and I’m really impressed with these girls and their passion to give back to the community.”