View Full Version : Marines honored, uplifted by Quadriplegic Artists

02-22-03, 09:06 AM
Marines honored, uplifted by Quadriplegic Artists
Submitted by: Headquarters Marine Corps
Story Identification Number: 2003221163540
Story by Staff Sgt. Sergio Jimenez

NORTHRIDGE, Calif.(February 20, 2003) -- A group of young quadriplegic artists honored the Armed with the presentation of a special oversized Valentine's Day card during a ceremony at the Helen Weenas Art Center, Feb. 14. The young artists spent several days painting the card with mouth sticks and other adaptive devices as their way of saying thank you to the men and women of the US military. Marines from Recruiting Station Los Angeles and Los Angeles Public Affairs and a National Guard representative were on hand to accept the special card for the troops.

The Helen Weenas Art Center was established by the Freedom to Live Foundation in 2002. The center attempts to fill a void in the community by offering severely challenged young adults a chance to express themselves through painting and other art forms. It also gives them the opportunity to interact socially, according to Jack Allison, art center public relations director.

The Marines thanked the artists by presenting them with a Marine Corps flag that according to Eva Goetz, executive director of the center, would be flown with honor and pride. The Marines sent the card to Leathernecks stationed in the Arabian Gulf.

During the ceremony, Misi, a 23-year-old quadriplegic and former college football player studying computer sciences at Pierce College, thanked the Marines for their service to the Nation and for their sacrifices during Operation Enduring Freedom. "The best way we can support you is by doing this," said Misi in a speech before servicemembers, staff members and therapists.

Misi, along with Araceli, Nikki, Sara, Chris and Sandra are a few of the artists who painstakingly designed and painted the cards during their free time.

The Marines had lunch and visited with the artists for about two hours. "We talked about life, love, and the possibilities that the future holds," said Sgt. Todd A. Fox, Los Angeles Public Affairs Office. "We talked about what any young person in their 20s would talk about," said Fox.

Fox said he was amazed by the positive attitude and the depth of knowledge some of the artists had on a wide variety of subjects. Fox said his conversations easily flowed from subjects as diverse as stem cell research to sports and entertainment.

What struck Fox the most was the self-deprecating sense of humor the artists displayed about their condition. "They were very comfortable in their own skin," said Fox. According to Fox, a 3rd degree black belt in Ju Jitsu, Nikki, a quadriplegic with freckles and blonde shoulder-length pigtails jokingly threatened to kick his butt a few times. The self-professed sit-down comic, had Fox and other Marines rolling with laughter at her quick wit.

SSgt. Christopher Olivares, a recruiter from RSS Van Nuys, said he was deeply moved by the will and determination of the artists to maintain their optimism in spite of the many challenges they have to overcome on a daily basis.

Olivares and Fox said the visit helped put their lives into perspective.

"As a recruiter, sometimes you have a couple of tough days and you think you have it rough," said Olivares. "But we don?t know what rough is," he said.

Araceli, 24, has a rare type of Muscular Dystrophy known as Mitochondrial Myopathy that severely limits the movement of her arms. In spite of her condition, she patiently maneuvers her right hand to painstakingly create works of art. "My art inspires me," she said in her art center biography. "It makes me happy."

On the way back to work, Olivares said he could not stop thinking about the young artists. He said he expected to find young depressed people who needed inspiration and motivation from the Marines, but what he found were strong and spirited young people with an infectious positive attitude. "With all of the challenges they face on a daily basis, it is truly amazing that they have such a positive outlook on life," said Olivares. "We were the ones who were inspired."

Sgt. Todd A. Fox, Los Angeles Public Affairs Office and SSgt. Christopher A. Olivares, Recruiting Substation Van Nuys, Van Nuys, Calif., accept a Valentine's Day card from a group of young quadriplegic artists during a ceremony honoring members of the U.S. military at the Helen Weenas Art Center, Northridge, Calif., Feb. 14. The young artists spent several days painting the card with mouth sticks and other adaptive devices as their way of saying thank you to the men and women of the US military.
Photo by: Staff Sgt. Sergio Jimenez