Apartment not wheelchair friendly


Geralda MillerRENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL
12/30/2002 12:20 am

Candice Towell/RGJ
Sherry Weaver, 39, of Reno needs a house that can accommodate her wheelchair.

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Sherry Weaver's wish for Christmas is a place to live that is big enough for herself, her sister and her sister's three children.

The small, two-bedroom apartment on the city's southeast side was not made for a wheelchair, and it's difficult for the 39-year-old Weaver to get around.

"I just want a new house," she said. "It's too crowded in there. I need a ramp for my wheelchair. It's too hard for me to get around."

Weaver has cerebral palsy, a disorder that has paralyzed the left side of her body. Although she qualifies for a motorized wheelchair, her living conditions do not allow her to have it.

It was a year of hard knocks for Weaver - and she does not want to talk about it.

Her mother, Beverly Gean Weaver, died in January from a stomach aneurysm.

"She's really missing mom right now," said her 14-year-old nephew Wesley, who has vowed to take care of his aunt. "Yesterday, I told her to be strong. She was crying on my shoulder."

For at least 13 years, Weaver Weaver and her mother shared the apartment. In 1995, Weaver's sister, Debbie Walgenbach, moved into the apartment across the hall with her sons to provide support.

When their mother died, Walgenbach and her three sons, ages 14, 7 and 5, moved in with Weaver.

Sherry sleeps alone while the others take turns on the two couches in the living room or the queen-size bed in the second bedroom. Her room, with its twin bed, has a television she enjoys watching, a certificate of appreciation for participating in a talent show and a tall stack of disposable underwear in the corner.

"It's small and cramped but it's warm," Walgenbach said. "We don't have much money, but who does nowadays."

Christmas was modest, she said, with few presents under the imitation pine tree in the living room corner. And Walgenbach picked up gifts as an adoptive family from the Salvation Army's Toys for Tots program.

"I'm going to have something for my kids," she said.

Walgenbach is not working right now, after getting fired in May from her job in scrapbook making.
"Couldn't get a baby sitter," she said. "Which is fine because I need to be home to take care of the kids, and take care of Sherry and take care of the home."

One of Walgenbach's sons, Wesley, has taken on the role of protector. When the state-appointed caregivers aren't around, he is the one who lifts her to the toilet or to bed.

"Well, I'm 14 and I'm taking care of a disabled aunt," he said. "It's hard for me because I'm a boy and she's a girl. I just have responsibility."

Since 1985, Sherry has spent her days in a rehabilitation program at the center operated by the Washoe Association of Retarded Citizens, a non-profit organization aimed at helping people with mental retardation and disabilities live full and complete lives. The agency offers work programs to teach participants job skills.

"She's not one who's real interested in work," said Wendy Firestone, a WARC case manager. "So, we find other things for them to do in the day."

For Sherry, it's working puzzles, listening to music and participating in leisure activities such as yoga.

"I think she's the type of person who deserves to have someone from the community show up to the plate and make her dreams come true," Firestone said.

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