Stories Spur Us Onward

By: Amy Beck, marketing and communications manager on January 31st, 2018

On this final day of January – a month full of reflection, goal-setting, and resolutions – I’m thankful for opportunities to listen to and learn from people. Their stories are powerful, especially when they provide a boost to improve or strive onward.

I’m particularly inspired by the creative ways that people connect and deepen their relationships with friends and family. It’s heartening when people seize opportunities to do so at the Woodson Art Museum – by looking at and talking with one another about artwork in the galleries, participating side-by-side in programs for all ages, and returning often to explore frequently changing interactive options in Art Park. Currently, visitors can explore Quilts & Wood exhibition themes in Art Park by contributing to a collaborative paper quilt and seeing how a lathe shapes wood. I’ve watched grown men giggle while spinning turned-wood tops, playing like little kids again, without another kid in sight.

Learning new things and telling others’ stories were aspects of being a journalist that I most enjoyed years ago. In my role championing the Woodson Art Museum, I have the privilege of continuing to do what I love. I also feel privileged to know and continue to learn from a pair of visitors – Hunter and Sandi Kelch – whom I contacted a year and a half ago, after Hunter wrote a blog post about the Museum.

Hunter Kelch, a 25-year-old Wausau man with Cerebral Palsy who blogs about accessibility issues, gave the Museum his first-ever five-wheelchair-star rating in August 2016 for providing full accessibility and great service. Prioritizing barrier-free access throughout the Woodson Art Museum’s physical facility benefits those with disabilities and all visitors. Hunter’s blog, though, underscores through specific examples how crucial that barrier-free access is:

  • The placement of a Museum coat rack at a height he can reach from his wheelchair ensures him the option of hanging up his own jacket, independently.
  • The Museum’s accessible family bathroom offers the space and privacy for a caregiver’s assistance.
  • Spacious entry areas, doorways, and elevator alleviate his worries by sparing others’ toes and shins from inadvertent wheelchair collisions.

Hunter’s winsome ways – light-hearted, yet frank – prompted me to seek his input once while staff was finalizing a tactile artwork installation and again during a kiosk design phase.

Months later, after he’d used the completed kiosk during a subsequent visit – it was rewarding to read further insights in his blog. Being able to wheel up to an accessible kiosk to leave comments via the digital guestbook becomes significant, he writes, because elsewhere voting booths are not; he has to shout out his candidate selections as someone else completes his ballot.

He makes powerful points like these through his writing. In his letter supporting the Museum’s nomination before it won the 2017 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, Hunter wrote that during a Museum visit on his mother’s 50th birthday, they “were able to sit in a beautiful setting and take a break from our hectic lives. For that moment, we were mother and son, not caregiver and client. When caregivers do not have to make adjustments due to obstacles, their experience changes from that of a caregiver to being a friend or family member. Only rarely am I able to give that gift to my mom, who traveled this ‘disabled journey’ with me, my entire life.”

Via Hunter’s weekly blog, “Come Roll With Me,” and Facebook page, “Accessing the World,” he’s inviting readers along for the ride.

I’m continually delighted by his humor, yet sobered by daunting daily obstacles that Hunter and Sandi encounter but are determined to overcome: transportation difficulties, caregiver fatigue, social isolation, emergency preparedness, and more. His honest, yet enthusiastic blog Friendships for Teens and Young Adults With Disabilities, posted on January 21, 2018, offers suggestions that could help us all meet new people and expand our friendship circles, both in person and virtually, online.

By following his posts, I’ve become more aware of how a few stairs in my home can hinder guests and the importance of proactively setting up work-arounds before guests arrive.

His poignant, bittersweet – yet ever upbeat – accounts have deepened my appreciation and admiration for his work, providing insights and ideas from a “rollin’ man” in an able-bodied world.”

It’s been a joy to get to know him better, both through his blog posts, and in person.

Hunter and Sandi rejoiced with us when Museum director Kathy Kelsey Foley and I visited him to share the National-Medal news, enthusiastically joined us for the Community Celebration at the Museum last August, and agreed to participate in an October StoryCorps-recording session at the Museum – part of the National Medal award. Throughout its three-day visit, StoryCorps – a national nonprofit dedicated to recording, preserving, and sharing the stories of Americans – documented community members’ stories about the Museum’s impact on their lives. Hunter and Sandi were among fifteen pairs whose forty-minute, StoryCorps-recorded conversations will be archived at the Library of Congress.

Although I certainly empathize with Hunter – I, too, am more comfortable with writing rather than public speaking – I can only imagine the intestinal fortitude that the StoryCorps recordings must have required for this young man with speech difficulties. Nevertheless, he persevered. Not only did he seize the StoryCorps-recording opportunity, but also went on to challenge himself to begin a weekly video-recorded “Tip for Tuesday” posted on his Facebook page and new YouTube channel. Hunter’s most recent video tip discusses how to interact with a person with speech difficulties.

I’ve also admired the way this pair continues to embrace other new challenges. Hunter and Sandi made it their mission to try a variety of pre-holiday excursions. “This year I am on a quest to find new holiday traditions to share with friends and family,” he wrote. His review of the Rotary Winter Wonderland in Marshfield, posted on December 22, prompted our family’s visit there, too, during the holidays.

Hunter details other adventures in his New Year’s Eve post, 2017: Year in Review, setting goals for himself that inspire readers to challenge themselves in the year ahead, too.

“As I reflect back on 2017 and look forward to 2018, I feel so blessed!  Along the way, I had many incredible experiences and met wonderful people.  2017 was a year of growth for me as a person and a blogger.

“. . . I challenged myself in many ways in 2017. This year, I ventured out and experienced things I never thought possible. I wanted to experience a motorcycle ride, I went on three! An exciting ride in a Mustang was also on my list of adventures. My mom and I recorded our story for StoryCorps, thanks to an invite from the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum. My speech and stutter add to my shyness. With the support of so many, I began making videos in addition to blogging to help gain confidence in this area. As I look forward to 2018, I am planning on expanding those challenges. My bucket list includes snowmobiling, public speaking, a multi-state road trip and starting a t-shirt line!

“ … I am so excited to continue to spread awareness for those who have disabilities. Advocating to make this world a kinder and more accessible place for those with disabilities will continue to be my mission.”

Motivated by Hunter and the StoryCorps experiences, my husband and I recorded video conversations with each of our mothers during a recent trip to Kansas City for a family wedding, preserving their reflections and perspectives that otherwise we might never have learned.

What stories can you share about the ways you’ve deepened connections with friends and family at the Woodson Art Museum? We hope you’ll visit soon and often to discover anew what inspires you.

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