Editor's note: This is the 21st in a series of stories highlighting the 21 agencies to receive United Way's annual campaign funds. This is the final article of the series.

BY ANGIE HAFLICH

ahaflich@gctelegram.com

People who are immobile due to cerebral palsy, spina bifida, or spinal cord injuries often have insurance and other types of coverage that falls short of covering all of the costs associated with equipment that would vastly improve their independence and health.

However, United Cerebral Palsy of Kansas (UCP) fills the financial gap in these situations, largely due to funding that the organization receives from the Finney County United Way.

This is the case for 5-year-old Martin Garcia of Garden City, who has spina bifida. Recently, UCP qualified him for $300 in assistance, which will go toward the purchase of a special piece of equipment for his wheelchair. Because neither father, Martin Garcia, nor mother, Petra Hernandez, speak English, Consuelo Sandoval, executive director of the local United Way chapter, translated what his school, Florence Wilson Elementary School, did for the family.

"Martin has an existing wheelchair, but at school they're asking that a little table be added to it so he can do his school work on it," Hernandez said. "We have insurance and Medicare, but none of that covered it, so the staff at Florence Wilson referred us to UCP."

Through Sandoval's translation, Hernandez said that her husband currently is on medical leave and she is unemployed.

"$300 is a tremendous amount to us right now, and when it comes to our disabled child, we want him to do well in school. So we are grateful to the community for donating," she said.

Dave Jones, executive director of UCP, said that over half the statewide organization's budget comes from 30 different United Way chapters.

"And we have a lot of different folks that we can get involved, so we try real hard to leverage as much additional funding with the United Way dollars as we can," Jones said. "The clients' insurance will pay some of it, and then we use United Way money to help with some of the costs that insurance doesn't cover or help us pay for equipment for families who are uninsured or underinsured."

Sandoval said that the local United Way provided $6,000 to the organization this year, all of which is redirected to helping clients in Finney County.

"For the amount we give them, they end up spending more than we give them out here sometimes double and triple," Sandoval said. "They help wheelchair-bound clients with equipment and services and really help people with that type of disability to maintain their current level of independence and sometimes increase it."

The organization assists not only individuals who have cerebral palsy and spina bifida, but also those with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and all types of spinal cord injuries. Jones said that due to the immobility these diseases cause, the equipment they help provide their clients can help with breathing, digestive functioning and also reduce pressure sores which can occur due to sitting in one position too long.

"We do some body imaging and get clients positioned in what is kind of like a bean bag chair. We get a reverse mold from that and then send it to a company back east and they send us back a custom fitted seat that contours the clients' body in the position the therapist wants them in," Jones said. "We're just trying to make sure they don't get pressure sores helping maintain their health. Some of the clients we actually put in tilt wheelchairs, so that they or their caregiver can shift and move that weight a little bit just to take the pressure off certain areas."

This is done through a cooperative effort with the Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation, which has a Posture Seating Clinic in which the organization builds customized seating systems for wheelchairs and perform repairs, in cooperation with Services for Children with Special Health Care Needs. Through state-of-the-art technology, clinic staff can prescribe a wheelchair seating system to provide better body alignment, normalize muscle tone and inhibit abnormal reflexes.

"We did a specialized wheelchair control system that has a communication device on there it shoots a laser off this youngster's eye so he can actually communicate by just looking. He looks on the grid, like a computer screen, if he stops on the 'I,' it'll print an 'I,' so he can spell things out," Jones said.

Other agencies that will benefit from the 2012 United Way funds are: Finney County RSVP; Kansas Children's Service League; Catholic Social Service; Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Program; Smart Start; Playground Program; Family Crisis Services; Spirit of the Plains, CASA; The Salvation Army; Meals on Wheels; Habitat for Humanity; Garden City Family YMCA; Garden City Chapter of the Red Cross; Miles of Smiles; Santa Fe Trail Council of the Boy Scouts of America; Community Day Care Center; United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries; Russell Child Development Center; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Finney and Kearny Counties; and Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland.

United Cerebral Palsy of Kansas

Director: Dave Jones

Address: 5111 E. 21st St., Wichita, KS 67208

Phone: (316) 688-1888