Donna Weimer has been a foster parent to 18 handicapped children over the years, and there was one 3-year-old she was determined to adopt.
Forget it, the doctors told her. Beverly wouldn’t reach age 5. Brain-damaged by injuries before her fifth day of life, she was best left to institutional care for the short time she’d been allotted.
“They said, ‘Don’t get attached, she’s not going to make it.’ They said she would never walk or talk or ever call me Mommy,” Weimer says 39 years later.
Her daughter endures multiple health problems. She has the mental capacity of a 10- or 11-year-old and needs a heroic amount of care. But she also is witty, vivacious, kind, courageous, a movie buff, a wizard at jigsaw puzzles, and by her mother’s description, “the star of the family,” which includes eight grown siblings.
“She’s been a blessing,” Weimer says. “We thank God for her every day.”
As it happens, “blessing” is the same word she uses for the volunteers who stopped by in late summer to build a multilevel ramp at the rear of the Weimers’ Southside house, ending a daily ordeal of coming and going.
They represented Servants At Work, an ecumenical religious ministry whose members build wheelchair ramps as a gift of freedom for aged and disabled persons.
Cerebral palsy inflicted in infancy has left Beverly with balance difficulties and impaired vision, and now she has a broken knee from a recent fall as well.
The front and back stoops of the home were not hospitable to her wheelchair, and her parents – Donna, 68, and Chuck, 77 – have disabilities of their own that doctors say will have them in need of wheelchairs down the road. Living on modest pensions but caught in the no-man’s-land just above eligibility for Medicaid, they have been “eaten up,” as Donna puts it, by medical bills from Beverly’s cerebral palsy, diabetes, heart problems, seizures and injuries.
Nevertheless, the Weimers hesitated when a relative mentioned SAWs. They thought others might be more deserving. The organization found the family most deserving when Donna finally made the contact, and the result was a handsome two-directional ramp of about 20 feet in length.
“They did a great job,” Mr. Weimer said as his wife eased Beverly down the structure a few days after the Labor Day weekend installation.
“And they were so sweet,” Mrs. Weimer exclaimed. “We’d just been praying for this.”
For Beverly, the breakthrough came not a moment too soon: “I didn’t want to do those steps any more.”
To Jim Burleson, project manager for the crew that built the ramp, the appreciation is mutual. And the work is, well, fun.
“I always equate it to going out with the guys on a Saturday morning to play golf, except instead of playing golf you’re doing some good,” he says. “The payday is when that patient takes the first ride down the ramp, the joy on their face – and the caregiver, too, who’s been muscling that chair up and down steps all that time.”
A registered nurse in the Community Hospital system in his day job, Burleson has been with SAWs 10 years and works on 20 to 25 jobs a year. SAWs is on track to install between 90 and 100 this year in the metro Indianapolis area, according to Jim Hamilton, project coordinator for the area. While funding and volunteers are drawn far and wide, the charter supporters are St. Luke’s United Methodist and Second Presbyterian churches.
They’ll never meet a more grateful recipient than the Weimers, who’ve spent their lives being thankful for the opportunity to love and serve young people in need.
“I’m selfish,” Mrs. Weimer says of her focus on foster-parenting the disabled. “I wanted the ones who could give me the most.”
She does not mean money. There was very little of that from the government. “I always dressed them as well as my own kids. I wanted them to be equal to everyone. I wanted them to feel good about themselves.”
As for Bev, Mrs. Weimer says, “God knew we were going to be a mess, so he sent her to keep us in line. And she has done that. She’s a miracle.”
A pretty fine “mess” her family is, if you ask the men who came to help.
“She is more of a giver,” Burleson says of Mrs. Weimer. “So it’s good that she can be on the other side of the fence.”