The Meaning of LIFE Newsletter

April 2017 PDF version


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The Meaning of LIFE Newsletter (picture of LIFE’s logo)

April 2017

Leveling the playing field for people with disabilities in order to create a world in which EVERYONE can fully participate!


By John Paul Berlon

One can often find Barry Helmey hanging out with celebrities in City Market, working out at the YMCA, greeting people in search of healthy foods at the Farmer’s Market, leading busy minds and bodies to a place of tranquility, or participating on the board in local nonprofits. The fact that you can find him here or there is a testament that Barry models independent living and even more important that he does these things to live LIFE.

“What did the buffalo say to the son that went off to college?”


Barry has a gift of humor. Any encounter with Barry usually involves a joke, a story, or a play on words. Although he may have acquired some humor from one of his four older siblings, his

mother raised him with interesting stories with a theme of living independent as well as interdependent.

A new neighbor asked a kid if he would be willing to play in his front yard for a $1.00 per day. All the kid had to do was play like he would normally play but in his front yard. The kid liked to play and agreed to play in the front yard every day and the neighbor paid him $1.00 per day. A month went by and the neighbor asked the kid if he would play in the front yard for fifty cents per day. The kid contemplated and agreed to pay in the front yard every day and the neighbor paid him fifty cents per day. Another month passed and the neighbor asked the kid if he would play in the front yard for twenty-five cents per day. The kid said he would not be willing to play in the front yard for a quarter because it was less money than in the beginning. The moral of the story shared by Barry’s mother is that if you pay someone to do something they are willing to do in the beginning, the person will not do for themselves when you don’t pay them.

From an early age, Barry’s mother gave him a skill and a desire to do it on his own. Barry’s neighbor witnessed Barry’s mother ignoring Barry’s request to be carried from the car in the driveway into the home. “I’m too tired, carry me” hardly persuaded Barry’s parents to oblige in his request. Barry’s father was a carpenter and made a custom desk with an arch so Barry could stretch while working on homework. His mother designed and his father constructed a scooter board to help improve weak trunk muscles, a common attribute of cerebral palsy (CP). His mother was akin to Mr. Miagi of the Karate Kid by teaching him skills that would one day help him live independently. In the late 60’s and early 70’s, the family planned as if there would never be such a thing as a curb cut or the A.D.A.

In 1982, Barry acquired his first set of fast wheels — a three-wheel bicycle. This bicycle challenged the limits of his geography and cemented a desire of deep independence. While riding his bicycle with neighborhood kids, Barry had difficulty with causing the wheels on the bicycle to go around. A close neighbor told a group of kids that Barry can’t do it right and suggested leaving him behind. Moments after this rejection, Barry received an invite by his new friend Joey who invited him for a ride. Barry had a significant challenge in getting onto the bike. His friend Joey told him to relax, step on his foot, and slide his foot off onto the pedal.

One day, Barry and Joey were riding bikes and Barry fell off. An acquaintance by the name of Bubba came to help and could have put Barry back on his bike without any assistance from anyone. However, Bubba used his shirt and requested that both Barry and Joey help. Bubba knew that Barry and Joey would have to do the hard work when others were not around.

Barry enjoys traveler stories because they went to different places including galaxies far, far away. “Going places” said Barry. “This is who I am.” Barry went places including Northern Essex College in Massachusetts where he fell in love with a town with several accessible features. He joined the Social Club where the group convinced the school board to acquire automatic doors, install mirrors in bathrooms that were lowered and angled. Barry joined a dance company where he became the first person in a wheelchair to dance at the college. When his sister Janet graduated, he could forecast that his wheels would leave him in the front row and not on stage.

“Being born with a disability, I didn’t have the luxury to think of myself as someone different. Sometimes it is hard to be an advocate because you have to be so focused and self-loving. It is easier to put someone at ease because someone else is afraid to ask. However, when you are an advocate, you don’t have to put people at ease and sometimes you have to be ok with raising hell.” Through his advocacy, a ramp was installed for the graduation ceremony, and he accepted the diploma on center stage as any other graduate had the right to do. In addition to a diploma, he was awarded the President’s Award for advocacy work in breaking down barriers.

A person found a squirrel that needed some help. The person cracked the nuts and fed the squirrel each day. The squirrel grew long teeth and died. Moral of the story: it is hard to watch someone struggle.

After working at Memorial Hospital as a courier, Barry turned his sights on being a community advocate. Although Chris Wilburn and Cheryl Brackin introduced him to the LIFE’s board, Barry recalls his first contact with Judy Winters, co-founder of LIFE, Inc. Barry was impressed with Winters’ willingness to go to jail because of her beliefs. Winters often reached out to Barry for ideas and comments on projects ranging from protests to a dating club. With the assistance of Bob Habas, Barry moved to independent housing.

In addition to LIFE, Inc., Barry is a peer mentor, assists in nursing home transition and a spinal injury group, and works with Mixed Greens. Mixed Greens is a group of citizens that strives to build a welcoming community around the Forsyth Farmer’s Market and provide opportunities for connection and contribution for people with and without disabilities. Barry is a greeter at the farmer’s market. Could you imagine a living example of independent living and a great story teller welcoming visitors to the Farmer’s Market? Barry also offers classes on mindfulness, eating well, and food justice.

Barry’s mother is a metaphysical poet who said this on more than one occasion: The whole recipe is in the first spoonful. Barry’s modeling independent living has resulted in countless experiences and friendships. Barry is a fan of local musician Chuck Courtenay and that experience and friendship is mutual. Chuck was offered a music gig upstairs that would be inaccessible; he stated that he would not play upstairs if it meant Barry could not be present for the event. Sharing any experience in LIFE with Barry, you are certain to know of his many gifts in the first spoonful.

In the article you’ve just read, Barry clearly shows us the importance of advocating for the rights of people with disabilities. Advocacy is just one of LIFE’s five core services. In the next four issues of The Meaning of LIFE newsletter, we will highlight our other core services of Peer Support, Information & Referral, Independent Living Skills Training and Transition. So stay tuned and let us know if YOU have a story to share.


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From Our Director…

I am writing today to let everyone know of a new point of emphasis in service delivery. We at LIFE are addressing our 5th core service, Transition, with renewed vigor. Our focused effort and the addition of two new dynamic talents, Clay Mims and Christine Askew, have further enhanced our previous efforts.

Clay Mims has been spearheading the effort to help individuals transition out of nursing homes back into their homes in the community. He has done a masterful job juggling consumer needs with the documentation responsibilities necessary to access Money Follows the Person and non-MFP Nursing Home Transition funding. These transitions also require strong community partnerships, necessary to locate housing, medical and transportation resources as well as to help individuals acclimate to their new environments, and Clay has been diligent in identifying groups and brainstorming partnerships.

Christine joins us with a wealth of experience working with youth, both in her capacity as a substitute teacher as well as through her work outside of the school environment as a social worker and an employee at Job Corp. She brings her enthusiasm for teaching and working with youth to our

Students for LIFE classrooms, pairing with Jessica Mathis locally in Savannah and other staff members throughout our 11 counties to present our soft skills curriculum to students who presently have Individualized Education Plans. Our Students for LIFE program helps these students prepare

for their transition to life after high school. Her team-oriented approach and creative lesson planning have helped provide a classroom environment in which the students can more easily connect with

the subject matter and their fellow students.

If you know of anyone who would benefit from either of these programs, please encourage them to reach out to us, or if you have any interest in contributing to our efforts as a volunteer, please let us know. Regardless of what capacity you are interested in being involved, we look forward to working with you all during the delivery of these invaluable services.


Do YOU have a desire to use your experience as a person with a disability to help others as they travel along their life path? If so, please reach out to us. We would love to work with you!

Please contact Neil Ligon at


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Upcoming LIFE Events


April 5 Premier Jewelry Fundraiser 5:00 – 7:30
April 6 Chipotle Fundraiser 5:00 – 9:00
April 13 Wellcare//Medicare Workshop 1:00 – 3:45
April 28 Picnic in the Park Peer Support Social 1:00 – 3:00
June 8 Getting Ready to Work 1:00 – 3:00
May 18 Emergency Preparedness Workshop 1:00 – 3:00
May 18 LIFE Board Meeting 5:00 – 6:30


Check our website and FB page for event details

If you need accommodations, such as materials in an alternate format or a Sign Language Interpreter for any of LIFE’s events, please contact our office at 912-920-2414 at least one week in advance.

All events will be held in LIFE’s conference room unless otherwise noted.

The Wind Beneath My Wings—A Mother’s Day Tribute

by Cheryl Brackin

She helped a broken little girl laugh again, try again, walk again, and run again. She is my beloved mother. No parent should have such anguish and fear about her child. She never complained; she encouraged. She knew tomorrow would be better. How do you thank the person who helped you learn to walk twice? Mom diagnosed my polio first. My parents sought the medical help I needed and drove from Southeast Georgia to Atlanta every other day to see me in the hospital. My mother sold some of her cattle in Florida to pay the initial hospital costs. My father worked and paid the

other medical bills. My wonderful mother made 34 outpatient trips with me to Warm Springs. We left home in the early-morning hours and traveled through farm country and peach orchards. When I was six, Mom bravely sent me off to a quaint, red-brick two-story schoolhouse. Although I was the only child who used crutches and a brace, I knew I would make it because my mother believed in me. Many times she smiled to hide her pain. She saw me through my struggles in school to succeed and to excel. She expected a lot, and she gave a lot. I never wanted to disappoint her. Yes, Mom, you let me fly so high, and I thank you.


(This is a talk Cheryl gave in 2002 at a Coastal Empire Polio Survivors Association meeting. The program was “The Wind Beneath My Wings” in honor of those who helped members most in their polio journeys. Cheryl also spoke that day about her maternal grandmother and her only sister. She always has been so thankful that her mother, Mae Eula Spears Brackin, was present at this meeting to hear the tribute. Her mother died in 2004.)


Cheryl is a long-time LIFE board member.


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You can help make fair housing a reality by becoming a fair housing “tester.” As a fair housing tester you will visit many interesting homes and apartment complexes, and may have an opportunity to serve as a key witness in a court case. More importantly, you become a key part of the Savannah-Chatham County Fair Housing Council, Inc. (SCFHC) efforts to end discrimination in housing.



The U.S. Supreme Court has referred to testing as the only legitimate method available to identify practices of unlawful housing discrimination. Most complaints of housing discrimination are readily resolved based on the testing evidence provided by SCFHC.



Testing is a way of measuring differences in the quality, quantity and content of information and service given to home seekers by housing providers as part of their normal business practices. Teams of persons, similar in all characteristics except the variable being tested, pose as home seekers. The team members visit the same rental or sales office and take careful notes of what transpires.



A tester is a person that plays the role of a bona fide home seeker– a person who is looking for a place to live. Testers receive extensive training to prepare them to be “objective fact finders.” They do not form any personal opinions to influence the investigation. Testers are persons that come from all walks of life. Most importantly, they are careful observers, accurate reporters and truthful witnesses.

If you would like to help end housing discrimination by becoming a fair housing tester, call Wayne Dawson, Executive Director, at the Savannah-Chatham County Fair Housing Council, Inc. at 912.651.3136.


“Recently, we visited the Life Skills office for an appointment with Jessica Mathis. While there, Jessica demonstrated the various techniques to apply when trying to teach money skills to our brother. Just for him to feel, touch and handle the coins is helping him learn much faster how to grab hold, count and manipulate the coins and dollars for purchases. Also, pulling change from his pocket and wallet is like dealing in real life money exchange experience challenges. He is working on learning not to fumble with handling the money at the check-out.

We not only clip coupons as before, but also work with the addition and subtraction of amounts transacted in retail purchases. Worksheets are downloaded as another form of practice and we also roll play cashier/customer interactions at the checkout counter before we try it out at the store so he is aware of what is expected and what will happen when it is time to pay. We still have a ways to go but are now taking small steps; small amounts and repetition are patiently applied in daily “money time” study.

This has given our brother confidence in a life skill that he had been lacking before. Jessica was a huge support for us and her personality shines bright in a system that does not always make it easy for special needs assistance. Thank you, Jessica!”

Dear LIFE,

I was born paralyzed. It has taught me many things about life, like how to overcome challenges, as well as the things that are most important in this world. I was born with Spina Bifida; doctors informed my parents that I likely wouldn’t live through the day, much less the last 38 years. My parents knew that the rest of my life was going to include lots of trips to see doctors as well as countless hospital stays, but my family gave me the encouragement to adapt because they always reminded me that I was just like everyone else I just had to do things differently.

When I started kindergarten, I wore leg braces and walked with crutches. It did not take long before I managed to shear

through the metal running and playing kickball with my friends. A short time after that I transitioned to a wheelchair to make changing classes easier, and it was not long before I started competing in races which continued until high school. When I was fifteen or sixteen, I went up to Warm Springs where I saw a car outfitted with hand controls for the first time and got a crash course in how to use them in the mountains of North Georgia. A year or so later, thanks to Vocational Rehab I had hand controls and a wheelchair lifter on a car of my own which I used to get to and from school as well as my job as a doorman at a local movie theater. Once in college, I set my sites on becoming an Architect like my grandfather with a specialty in creating houses tailored to the specialized needs of the owner. I fully believe that your home should be a place where you are completely comfortable, while not having the sterile feel of a clinical setting with which we all have an aversion. While I was in school, I had the privilege to work with a couple of people that had very particular needs that an off-the-rack approach had failed to solve, and it was an exciting challenge to help them. Before leaving college, my aunt gave me an opportunity to challenge myself physically by offering a week long ski trip where I could learn to ski with an instructor. For the entire week I was on the slope for 9 hours a day, and by the end of the trip, I was able to ski at an expert level. Challenging ourselves both mentally and physically is the only way to prove to yourself what you can do. It is easy to say “I can’t,” but you don’t truly know unless you try.

Recently I got a new car which I use to run errands, spend time with family and friends, as well as going to see doctors. Family and friends are the most important thing in my life, and I love the freedom having an adapted car gives me. I have a 91-year-old grandmother and almost every single day I pick her up from her house and take her out for lunch and dinner. There is a parking lot across from a small airport, and we go and pick up something to eat and then park there and watch the planes come and go. We sit there in my car for hours while she tells me stories about my grandfather when he was younger. He has passed away, but not without living a full life. He flew a B-17 in World War II, became an accomplished Architect, had two daughters, and had many talents. My great grandfather was a descendant of a knight from the 11th century, and he wore his Coat of Arms proudly on a ring. One day the Coat of Arms broke off and was lost, and my grandfather took a class on jewelry making so he could create a new one and affix it on his ring so he could wear it once again. Today I wear the Tappan Coat of Arms and am honored to wear a ring worn by my great grandfather, crafted by my grandfather. On Wednesday nights I go to church with two of my oldest friends for Bible study, and it has proven to be an incredibly rewarding experience for me that I greatly look forward to every week. LIFE, Inc. played an enormous role in making all of this possible by helping me obtain hand controls, and spinner knob. Without it, I would be unable to drive my car, and do all these wonderful things. A very special thank you goes to Denise Howard at LIFE who not only helped me get funding for the hand controls and spinner knob but also took much time out of her busy schedule to educate me on the latest adaptive aids. Thank you, Denise, you do a terrific job!

Mr. P


The Coastal Empire Polio Survivors, Inc. (CEPSA) will celebrate its 20th anniversary on Saturday, April 22, 10:30 am at The Porch, college building of Bull Street Baptist Church in Savannah. Two polio survivors will share their polio stories. Past presidents of CEPSA will be recognized. Following the program lunch will be served. Polio survivors and guests are invited. For further information and to register, please call 912-927-8332.

LIFE Salutes Kroger!

Many Kroger stores, including the one at Diamond Causeway (Savannah), hire people with disabilities. Kroger believes that their employees need to be on the front lines serving their customers.

Nationally, Kroger has been recognized by the Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities, which fosters employment for students with disabilities. The Bridges from School to Work, which LIFE supports, helps more than a thousand young people enter the workforce annually with steady, beneficial employment as they leave high school.


Go to www. and sign in or create an account to enroll. Scroll down to “Plus Card” and click “edit” to link your card and new account. Hit “save.” Just below “Plus Card” is “Community Rewards”. Click “edit.” Type “ 53411”, then search. Click the circle to the left and “save” to complete. It’s that easy!

Now every time you shop at Kroger and use your Kroger Plus Card, you are supporting LIFE’s various programs.



Christine Askew – Transition Coordinator Shawana
Independent Living Coordinator
Denise Howard –
Independent Living Coordinator/ATOC Director
Jessica Mathis –
Peer Support Coordinator CT Transition Coordinator
Executive Director
Office Manager/Home Modification Coordinator
Fran Todd –
Director of Development
Board of Directors

Mark Schreiber – President
Stuart Klugler – Vice President
John Paul Berlon – Secretary
Teri Schell- Treasurer

Cheryl Brackin
Barry Helmey

Jonathan Kennard
Priscilla Small

Steve Oldaker

Margie Wright

Debbie Barefield



You also may donate online at

Thank you for helping us level the playing field for people with disabilities.

LIKE us on Facebook at LIFE Inc. (picture of Facebook logo)

If you or someone you know would like to receive a copy of our quarterly newsletter, or if you would like to receive our newsletter in an alternate format, please contact

Fran Todd at 912.920.2414 or


LIFE, Inc. is supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, GA Vocational Rehabilitation Association, Georgia Division of Aging, and the United Way.