NMEDA hosted their annual Local Heroes contest and has recently announced four winners. The competition has been running for the past few months, with thousands of entries being narrowed down to the select few winners. The community voted based on the information submitted by each contestant, and the stories they shared. All contestants were expected to hold to a common idea of what a local hero is: people who Volunteer, Educate, Advocate, Achieve, and Persevere. These four individuals embodied those attributes and received the highest number of votes, and they each will receive a new wheelchair-accessible vehicle courtesy of BraunAbility and VMI.
Antonio Dowels was a high school athlete with a chance to play college football in his race to play in the NFL. He was in the top 10% of his class, and his life was looking good. An automotive accident left him without the use of his legs, but even with his dreams of playing professional football left in the wreckage, he made strides forward. He graduated college and is looking to attend law school to become a sports attorney. During college, he spent his time devoted to his studies, feeding the homeless with his home church, mentoring newly disabled children at the local hospital, and speaking at schools and events. Antonio embodies the spirit of ability, and we hope the vehicle will help him get his law degree and realize his new dream of opening an organization to help underprivileged children.
Linda Stearns is the adoptive mother of Charlie, a child born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. She raised Charlie alongside her biological child and developed Multiple Sclerosis during this time. It only spurned her forward. She soon became a babysitter for quadruplets (free of charge), and began caring for her elderly parents. She isn’t even close to done yet. Linda also volunteered with: Cook County Multiple Sclerosis Chapter as a member and supporter, the Garden Center for the Handicapped, Mt. Zion Lutheran Church along with Galilee Baptist Church and Homeless Center. She now continues her service efforts, even after developing and battling breast cancer. Linda has more than earned her title as a local hero.
Courtney Boyll has spent the last 20 years in a wheelchair after an accident nearly took her life. She was an avid basketball player, now turned wife, mother of 3, teacher and coach. She believes that her job as a teacher has been made more significant by her paraplegia. Her students see her in the halls, the classroom, and everywhere else living a life that overcomes her disability. It teaches a lesson beyond that of math and English skills. Linda is also active in her church community and volunteers frequently. We know Courtney will use her van to further the lives of students even more than she could before.
The Watsons gave birth to their twin sons 10 months prematurely, both weighing in below 3 pounds. Scott and Ian have had a slew of medical issues as a result, including things like quadriplegic cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and cortical visual impairment. The twins have to make the trek with their parents on a 5-hour drive to see a specialist. The drive just got much easier with the new van the family will be receiving! Mrs. Watson plans penny drives for her local hospital and has helped raise several thousand dollars in her efforts.
To see more about each of the winners, check out their profiles on the NMEDA site. Courtney and the Watson family also have videos that are worth a watch!
Thanks for supporting another great year of the NMEDA Local Heroes contest!