Gary began his career with Paramount after working in the hospital in Bryan Ohio, and receiving his undergraduate degree at Eastern Michigan in sports medicine, and a Masters in exercise science at The University of Toledo. A passion for helping others and discovering how to live a healthy lifestyle led him to the organization in 2002.
As a Quality Resource Coordinator/Health Educator, he works alongside clients to create health plans that find solutions for cardiac patients. Gary connects with the person first – uniquely serving each patient and offering knowledge to help meet their specific needs. A New Direction At 34 years old, just seven months into his employment at Paramount, Gary experienced an accident while hunting that led to him becoming a paraplegic. After a two-month stint in the hospital, he came home to the life he knew, armed with a new perspective on disability. Anne, Gary's wife of six months, filled the role of caretaker. The newlyweds identified not only the barriers ahead, but also the opportunity to change viewpoints on disability. With little experience living with a disability at the time, Gary looked to his circle for guidance. "My best friend experienced a stroke at 21 and he told me about places in the community that would help," he explains. A call to The Ability Center led to hand controls to drive, aid for the cost of a wheelchair, and peer mentorship support for Gary. Years later, he stood alongside The Ability Center in advocating for accessibility at wildlife parks. An amendment was enacted that created a permit allowing hunters with mobility impairments to have increased access to designated wildlife areas. The permit also allows for the use for Electric Powered All Purpose Vehicles in designated areas. It took a natural leader and born hunter to take on this project and see it through – Gary made it happen in 2008.
At least 51% of staff and board of directors are individuals with disabilities. When a vacancy became available on the board, Executive Director Tim Harrington took Gary to lunch. Tim and Gary chatted about life, disability, and an opportunity to serve on The Ability Center's board. Innovative ideas and a commitment to inclusion was exactly what the board needed. Gary explains how services he has used have also supported others in the community, "This organization is a game changer for people. They made me realize what I have and to be grateful." Gary and his family were provided a ramp by the Home Accessibility Program so he can come and go as he pleases. A consumer himself, Gary's feedback matters and ultimately helps shape the agency's programming as they enter their second century of service.
A member of the board of The Ability Center from 2006-2014, Gary then came back on in 2016. Gary proves that disability is no limitation – just a local man who loves the same people, spaces and activities he did before his accident. A diehard baseball fan, Gary even tried out for the Kanas City Royals shortly after college. Each day, he advocates for what matters – inclusion, access and making a more welcoming community. "I have always been a fighter and I've been told I know no limits," shares Gary. He credits his disability for making him the man he is. He explains, "It's just part of my story."
The Big Reveal
In honor of The Ability Center's 100th anniversary, Jupmode teamed up with the local organization to recognize the legacy of service and empower the community to come together. "Toledo is for Everyone" themed shirts were sold during the month of January with $5 from each sale being donated to The Ability Center.
"I was shocked today when I rolled past one of our conference rooms and I saw a fellow co-worker with one of our shirts. When I said something to her she was like a deer in the headlights, did not
know what to say and then she proceeded to tell me I was not supposed to see her yet with the T-shirt. She proceeds to tell me almost everyone in the department was wearing a shirt and that they even got one for Anne (my wife) and myself. I was overwhelmed by this wonderful gesture," Gary explains. "We are putting Toledo on the map to becoming more disability friendly and I am proud to be a part of it."
Gary currently resides in Williams county with his wife and daughter and works in the Paramount Maumee office.