(Source: Palm Beach Post)
Shawn Friedkin, the founder of Stand Among Friends – a nonprofit organization that promotes opportunities for all people with disabilities to live a life without limits and experience independence and success in their communities – sits outside his offices on the Florida Atlantic University Campus in Boca Raton.
“It was a shock, but I am a positive person by nature so I didn’t take a lot of time to feel sorry for myself. I had a wife and a daughter and I had to get back to my responsibilities,” says Friedkin, who was determined his disability wasn’t going to define him.
But the Syracuse University graduate soon discovered there weren’t many resources for people in his situation. So in 1997 he founded Stand Among Friends, a nonprofit organization that advocates for and helps people with all kinds of disabilities learn technology, find jobs, navigate the insurance maze and be more independent.
The organization partnered with Florida Atlantic University, opening a resource center at its Boca Raton campus in 2006. And, on Sunday, Feb. 26, it will hold the second annual emb(race), a 5K and 10K walk/run and 1-mile family walk on the FAU campus.
“It’s a message of hope and a historic day that showcases everyone’s abilities,” explains Friedkin, 47, who lives in Boca Raton with his wife and two daughters. “It isn’t enough to help people with disabilities. We wanted to look at the bigger picture, to change people’s perceptions, bring more attention to the cause and engage the community. Our hope is to get as many people as we can to focus on peoples’ abilities, not their disabilities.”
Participants can run, walk, use walkers, canes, service dogs, wheelchairs, etc. in the event.
“I wish I could have bottled the energy at last year’s event,” says Friedkin, the recipient of a Men With Caring Hearts award in 2010. “And I think this year is going to be even better.”
What is the biggest misconception about people in wheelchairs?
‘That they must be deaf, dumb and blind also. It is human nature to be afraid of something you don’t know or understand, which is why we are trying to get the word out.’
What you learned from your life-changing experience?
‘Having a disability or getting a tough diagnosis doesn’t mean your life is over. There are a lot of people out there who want to help. But you have to learn how to be a good advocate for yourself. I had to learn how to have a physical presence from a wheelchair. I learned how to overcome obstacles and how to be very patient.’
What is your biggest accomplishment?
‘On a personal level, my family. On a professional level, helping people who have disabilities live independently. I’m trying to make a difference in the world one day at a time.’
What legacy would you like to leave?
‘I want to help create change that is lasting and leave this world better than the way it was when I got here.’
(Source: Palm Beach Post)