PERSONAL TRIUMPHS: Passages celebrates a banner year

COLUMBIA CITY — Going against the odds, overcoming struggles and pushing through challenges were the themes conveyed at Passages, Inc.’s annual meeting Wednesday.Not like the average board meeting, the evening was designed to celebrate victories of all kinds. Alice Anderson, is the vice president of programs and services for Passages and started the program with a list of accomplishments the organization has seen over the year.Passages, Inc. works to serve individuals with disabilities, but to those in attendance at the meeting it seemed to be more about abilities.A photography class was added to the arts programs that allowed one Passages client a chance to develop a talent and a business. Nathan “Than” Boutelle recently received the 2012 Keystone Award for Entrepreneur because of his photography business. Boutelle started the business after taking classes through the Passages art programs. Boutelle has been a Passages client for six years. “I had my own photography show at LT Foundations and I opened my own business with photography. I love what I do. I volunteer and help with the art program and then I take art on other days. I really enjoy it,” said Boutelle.Anderson also shared that Passages has seen a four and a half percent growth in services and increased day programs and community activities. Anderson said, “This couldn’t be accomplished without outstanding staff. Thank you for all you do and for everything you give.”A feather in the cap for Passages was the purchase of the Lehmberg building, once utilized by Parkview Hospital. Passages President Tom O’Neill told the audience Wednesday night that approximate $600,000 has been raised for the remodeling of the building, but more is needed.“We received many grants, but we are still a couple $100,000 short.” O’Neill laughingly said, “If anyone wants to take care of that tonight, come talk to me.”In a more serious tone, O’Neill said that donations are welcomed and do not have to come in large amounts. “Gifts of every size are needed,” said O’Neill.Patrons to the night’s meeting were able to tour Passages, Inc.’s and Whitley Crossings, Inc.’s new headquarters located above the Van Buren Event Center. Four board members were honored for their time in service to Passages. Carl Siler, Doug Brown, Vanessa Bills and Randy Holler were all given a plaque thanking them for what they had done to ensure Passages continues offering services and support for those with disabilities.Outside of the business reports and votes for new board members, entertainment was provided by Whitley County Dazzlers, a special needs cheerleading team. The Dazzlers performed a routine complete with lifts and flips. Bills is the group’s coach and was honored with the 2012 Dreamweavers Award for her time and talent given to the Dazzlers.Personal triumphSpecial guest speakers Kevin and Pia Pearce shared an inspiring story of overcoming setbacks and making even bigger comebacks. At 22, Kevin was qualified for the 2010 winter Olympics and was a top contender in the sport of snowboarding. After an accident while practicing a stunt, Kevin suffered a brain injury in December 2009, leaving him in a coma. Kevin recounted the story of his recovery, but it was Pia, Kevin’s mom, who shared, like only a mother could, of the amazing journey Kevin has taken. In January 2010, doctors reported that Kevin’s breathing tube was removed and he was regaining consciousness. Fast forward to Dec. 13, 2011, and Kevin found his feet strapped to a snowboard with friends and family watching. Pia said, “If he was a concert pianist, having him get back on the piano would be no big deal. Seeing him get back on a snowboard was scary. But I knew he had to do it. He loves it too much.”But the recovery wasn’t finished. Kevin still suffered from vision complications. With ongoing physical therapy and continuous healing, Kevin stood before the crowd Wednesday night with only a contact in one eye, a huge accomplishment according to Pia.Even though the accident was life changing, the Pearce family was no stranger to difficult diagnoses. Kevin’s older brother, David, has Down Syndrome. Kevin said, “We didn’t call it ‘Down Syndrome,’ but ‘up syndrome’ because David was always up and happy.” Pia said, “Having David taught me patience so I was better equipped for Kevin’s long recovery process.” Pia was a hands on mother, teaching all four of her sons to overcome such challenges like dyslexia. Kevin and Pia share their family’s story as a way to encourage and inspire others to work through disabilities and to realize personal triumphs are possible, no matter what others may think.Kevin closed the night with his arm around Pia exhibiting love and thanks for all she’s done to help him recover. He passionately said, “Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do something. Don’t give up. Keep going after what you want out of life. Don’t let your dream die.”Although he is not snowboarding competitively, Kevin is on the slopes, lives in his own home and drives a car. All three of those accomplishments are miraculous by doctors’ standards.When an audience member asked Kevin what his future goals are, Pia said, “He might not know what his next goal is, but I know it will be nothing short of spectacular.”For more information on Kevin Pearce, visit more information on Passages, Inc., contact 244-7688.