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Disability Awareness Month

DISABILITY AWARNESS: From left, Peru Mayor Gabe Greer stands with Harvesting Capabilities Vice Chair Cheryl Lee, Board Member Sue Gully, Cofounder Mike Hines, President Carol Biddle, Store Manager Anita Day and Board Member Brian Ege in City Hall to declare March as Disability Awareness Month in Peru. About 16 percent of students in Miami County have disabilities, according to local school statistics.

BY CAROLINE EGGERS - ceggers@perutribune.com

Mayor Gabe Greer declared March “Disability Awareness Month” in Peru on Monday morning with members and staff from Harvesting Capabilities, Inc., the non-profit whose main focus is helping those with disabilities and the elderly in Miami County. 

This year, Harvesting Capabilities wants to raise awareness about the need to support children with disabilities.

About 16 percent of the kids in Miami County have a disability, according to local school statistics. That number excludes homeschoolers, some of whom may have disabilities and be unable to attend school, according to Harvesting Capabilities Board Member Sue Gulley.

To serve this sizeable population, Harvesting Capabilities set a goal about two years ago to raise $100,000 to build an all-inclusive playground west of Miami’s Fort on the Peru Riverwalk.

The playground would feature activities that allow disabled kids to interact with non-disabled children, and offer accessibility for parents or caregivers in wheelchairs to visit the park with kids as well. 

Whether the child is autistic, in a wheel chair, “or the star of the basketball team,” the park is for all children of all abilities, said Harvesting Capabilities President Carol Biddle.  

“A child in a wheelchair can swing, a child with vision or hearing impairments can safely play and explore, and a child within the autism spectrum can discover the wonder of interaction with others and the joy of making new friends,” Gulley said.

And that would be a very special thing for those kids who are normally isolated. “Discovering new things and new friends is very important,” Gulley said.

To make this dream come true, Harvesting Capabilities needs to raise some serious dollars.

Half the proposed project cost is the wheelchair-friendly surfaces like board rubber and AstroTurf.  “You can’t just put down mulch,” Gulley said.

The store’s last two annual chili cook-offs collectively raised about $13,500 towards this $100,000 goal, and now they’re looking at other options.

Harvesting Capabilities is applying for grants through the Dukes Health Care Foundation, the Miami County Community Foundation and playground-supporting entities.

They’re still reviewing partner options for the project – such as a former Peru resident and Maconaquah High School graduate now representing AAA State of Play – and are carefully optimistic that construction could begin in the next couple of years, Gulley said.

And Harvesting Capabilities Board Member Brian Ege announced that he intends on forming a special committee to help manage the playground project through monthly meetings.

Harvesting Capabilities is located at 231 N Grant Street, and is open on Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on second Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

In addition to discount medical supplies, the store offers vouchers for clothing and household items – and aluminum ramps to those who qualify.

And they are always looking for volunteers. “We couldn’t do without our volunteers,” said Harvesting Capabilities Vice President Cheryl Lee. 

If you can’t volunteer, Harvesting Capabilities accepts PayPal donations on their website and mailed donations.

“We really need the help of the community to help the community,” said Harvesting Capabilities Store Manager Anita Day.

Greer’s proclamation reminded those in attendance at City Hall on Monday that “disability is a natural part of the human experience.”

“It in no way diminishes the right of individuals with disabilities to live independently, enjoy self-determination, make choices, contribute to society, and experience the full, economic, political, social, cultural and educational mainstream of American society,” Greer said.