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Wild Wheels and meaningful connections; WMU program empowers members with paint

KALAMAZOO, Mich — People using art to express themselves is nothing new, but students at Western Michigan University’s Center for Disability Services (CDS) are putting a spin on that idea.

The project— fittingly called Wild Wheels— gives CDS members a chance to get creative and engage in something meaningful by painting custom wheelchair covers to be sold at Kalamazoo’s Art Hop on March 1.

The money raised goes right back to CDS and (if you ask Alexis Bailey-Lauchie, a doctoral student at WMU) the money is a distant second on the list of benefits from this program.

“We’re looking at ‘how can people still enjoy the things that they love, and also be independent in doing so?'” she explained. “And for these individuals, it is helping them by creating Wild Wheels that they enjoy art and so we want to want them to be seen as artists over their disability.”

And in the case of one non-verbal artist, Bailey-Lauchie tells me letting the paint fly changes everything.

“He really comes alive, and you can almost hear the voice that is there,” Bailey-Lauchie said, smiling.

Wild Wheels Flyer

Western Michigan University

Date and times for Wild Wheels at WMU’s Art Hop

The benefit from Wild Wheels doesn’t stop with the artists though. The more I talked with those involved in making this program run, the more I realized there was a shared theme.

“So just being able to see the smiles on their faces,” Supervisor with CDS, Tory Gage said. “It always just brings a smile to my face. Like it just —it warms my heart so much.”

“I see the smiles that it brings and how it changes their mood every day.” doctoral student, Clayton Stapert added. “They come in and they you know, have their own, personalized design on their wheelchair, and makes me happy to see them happy.”

And with those smiles comes the opportunity to make a difference.

“I want to offer to different populations who are excluded from other things in life,” said Bailey-Lauchie. “I want to offer those opportunities to them. So that’s what I take away is the ability to give someone who is overlooked an opportunity to be valued in their community.”

WMU’s CDS has services that fit all sorts of lifestyles and needs, providing everything from skills development and community living to in-home care. Wild Wheels hubs can be found during the Art Hop at The Spirit of Kalamazoo on S Kalamazoo Mall between South St and Exchange Pl.

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