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Helping others help themselves: Northumberland man with cerebral palsy leads by example

Daily Item - 12/24/2018

Dec. 24--SUNBURY -- Brian Habermehl leads a life challenging the concept of what it means to be disabled.

The 34-year-old Northumberland resident works for The Arc, Susquehanna Valley, leading its self-advocates groups in the DREAM program -- Discovering Resources to Explore and Achieve your Mission. He leads by example, overcoming obstacles daily caused by the cerebral palsy. His fine motor skills are restricted to the use of his right arm and hand. He needs a motorized wheelchair to get around.

"Everybody deserves the freedom to be themselves, the freedom to have their light shine. No matter what their abilities are, it's about your strength and how to share with the community," Habermehl said.

"I never once heard Brian pity himself or question why he had to be born with a disability. It is such an inspiration to see someone with seemingly insurmountable obstacles work so hard," Cheryl Donlan, program director, The Arc, Susquehanna Valley.

Clients with physical or learning disabilities express a goal and Habermehl works to help them find available resources. It thrusts Habermehl into a role akin to a jack of all trades, researching topics and developing classes. A lot of research gets done late at night, he said.

There are technology lessons utilizing tablets and laptops. He teaches the use of Microsoft Office. Two clients want to write books, one on professional wrestling and another an autobiography. He's guiding their progress. One-on-one sessions include using technology to improve spelling and math.

"The folks he serves have a deep admiration for him and have the utmost respect for him," Donlan said.

Habermehl often discusses freedom, democracy and symbols of the U.S., Donlan said. That led him to arrange a field trip to the Statue of Liberty.

When self-advocates wanted lessons in cooking, Habermehl took on the challenge dish by dish. There are lessons upcoming in making pasta and another in cherry pie. As many as 75 people attend, he said.

One lesson was in sauerkraut. They mashed, brined and fermented cabbage themselves. The sauerkraut will be paired at dinner with potatoes the self-advocates grew themselves in raised garden beds. Habermehl led efforts to install beds in both Sunbury and Shamokin for community gardening.

"I didn't know what I was doing. I never gardened in my life," Habermehl said.

He never before worked to secure grant funding or give input to architects, either. Through the Degenstein Foundation and with the help of others at Arc, they made it happen. Habermehl's parents, Sue and B.J., are two of the people he relies on most.

"I don't know much but I fake it well," Habermehl said. "I'll never turn someone's dream down. I'll always find a way."

Habermehl uses survey data from self-advocates to identify potential DREAM classes. He's also open to suggestions from the community. Any professionals or service groups interested in teaching a new skill to self-advocates at The Arc, Susquehanna Valley are encouraged to contact Habermehl: email or call 570-286-1008.


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