NorCal SCI co-founders complete highly-productive schedule of meetings in Berkeley

What an amazing experience Nick and Franklin, NorCal SCI co-founders, enjoyed during their all-day trip to Berkeley last Thursday to meet with various organizations serving the disabled community. 

   Nikki from Easy Does It along with Franklin

Nikki from Easy Does It along with Franklin

A word of caution to anyone who has never been to Berkeley:  watch out for the pedestrians who have a tendency to dart on to the streets using (correctly) the pedestrian crossings but without any pause in their crossing attempt to make sure the incoming traffic has seen them and will stop.  Boy, twice, we came close to hitting someone. 

Our first meeting was with Nikki Brown-Booker, the Executive Director of Berkeley’s Easy Does It Emergency Services.  They offer emergency attendant services, transportation, wheelchair repair and loaner among other services.  Through their 24/7 dispatch service, they’re able to provide round-the-clock services critical to the disabled community of Berkeley at amazingly low rates.  For example, their attendants charge $15 per hour and they strive to have a male and female attendant available at all times.  We came away so impressed by the structure and level of service provided by Easy Does It.  But it is important to recognize that they offer “emergency” service, not ongoing support.  We learned a lot from our meeting with Nikki as we look to find ways to address some of the challenges faced by the spinal cord injury community in other parts of Northern California using innovative projects such as Easy Does It.

   Left to right:  Nick, Rick Smith and Franklin

Left to right:  Nick, Rick Smith and Franklin

Our next stop was with Rick Smith, Executive Director of Bay Area Outreach & Recreation Program (BORP).  It is the leading provider and promoter of accessible sports and recreation opportunities for children and adults with physical disabilities in the greater San Francisco Bay Area.  You need to check out their calendar to see the wide array of programs they offer.  Rick shared their goal is to expand the reach of BORP to more communities in the Bay Area and we shared with him some ideas on how to accomplish that.  They’re currently collaborating with Berkeley Ironworks by offering an indoor adaptive rock climbing program which they hope to expand more frequently.  We discussed with Rick the lack of services offered by BORP in the areas of Northern California outside of the Bay Area and he also shared his goal of increasing BORP’s presence and services to a larger audience.  We see there are ways for our two organizations to collaborate further to better serve our communities.

   From left to right:  Nick, Sid Wolinsky and Franklin

From left to right:  Nick, Sid Wolinsky and Franklin

We next met with Sid Wolinsky, managing director of the non-profit Disability Rights Advocates, one of the leading non-profit disability rights legal centers in the nation.  We met Sid at the Ed Roberts Day awards gala last month in Berkeley and he invited us to stop by their office to explore areas of common interest.  DRA has represented the disabled community in many landmark cases and is about to celebrate its 25th anniversary.  Locally, they have filed several lawsuits against Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) for many access-related issues and have won every one of them.  We shared with Sid and his team of attorneys the various issues that are challenging the SCI community in Northern California and hope to continue the dialogue in the coming months in areas that can be further advanced.

   At the Berkeley Spinal Network, Elizabeth socializes with Nils.

At the Berkeley Spinal Network, Elizabeth socializes with Nils.

We headed back to the Ed Roberts Campus to meet with Erin Hallett, one of the co-founders of No Limits Collaborative.  They are a group of young and highly-educated and trained physical therapists with a special focus and passion to work with individuals with spinal cord injury.  We got an update from Erin on the group’s current plans and shared with her what NorCal SCI is working to accomplish in 2018 and explored areas where we can collaborate with them.

Finally, our last gig was with the Berkeley Spinal Network and presenting NorCal SCI at their monthly meeting.  We enjoyed seeing a lot of familiar faces as well as meeting a number of new ones as we shared with the group what we’re hoping to accomplish and got some good feedback.  We’ve always felt we make the most impact when we’re face to face with members of our community and this setting was exactly what we were looking for.  We appreciate the group for hosting us and hope to see them more frequently.

   Nick and Peter at the Berkeley Spinal Network meeting

Nick and Peter at the Berkeley Spinal Network meeting

As we headed back home, we couldn’t help but feel giddy about the wealth of information we gained and exchanged with the various groups and re-affirm in our minds that there are a lot of pressing issues and challenges facing the SCI community that justify the existence of NorCal SCI and we will work to engage with and collaborate with any individual or organization who wants to be part of the solutions out there.