Charlotte families raising money to send therapy equipment to Kenya

htrenda@charlotteobserver.comDecember 4, 2013 

  • Want to help? Make checks payable to Church of the Holy Comforter, Attn: Holly Williams, 2701 Park Rd. Charlotte, NC 28209. Note in the memo line: “Kenya shipping project.” Any money raised over the $5,000 needed to ship the equipment to Nairobi will be donated to Therapies for Children, the nonprofit started by Mayian’s parents. Details: therapiesforkids.org.

Local therapists know donated equipment will help countless children, it’s just a matter of getting it there.

Pediatric therapist Amy Sturkey and pediatric clinical specialist Gail Fennimore are working to raise the $5,000 needed to ship more than 20 therapy items to Nairobi, Kenya.

The equipment was donated by local families when Mayian Musembi, his mother Catherine Mpaayei Simaton and physical therapist Grace Wanja traveled from Nairobi and spent nearly six weeks in Charlotte this summer, working to build Mayian’s strength and independence.

Mayian, 12, has quadriplegic cerebral palsy and is wheelchair-bound. Growing up he’s gone to therapy centers with no children's specialization, had in-home therapists, and been to five schools, searching for the right balance between specialized teaching and social integration, Simaton said.

The donated equipment includes power and manual wheelchairs, several adaptive tricycles, braces and orthotics, bath chairs and more. A partial-weight bearing stander with power lift – which costs between $4,000 and $6,000, Fennimore said – lifts people into a standing position so they can walk without having to bear all their own weight. Sturkey estimated between $30,000 and $50,000 worth of equipment was donated.

“We just put an all call out to everyone we met, thinking in the beginning just to get things Mayian might need. We were anticipating boxing some stuff ... we thought this would be a little crate job,” Fennimore said. “But it just kept coming.”

Fennimore, who’s been attending Church of the Holy Comforter about 30 years, said as the equipment came in, the church volunteered to store it. “We filled up a room that’s probably 12 by 14 (feet), at least,” she said.

Now, the equipment is being stored in a shipping container in Charleston. “The last leg of the journey is getting this equipment (to Nairobi),” she said. “We hope to wrap this up by the end of the year, we’re incurring storage fees and that’s not what we want to spend money on.”

The equipment has been stored about three months, Fennimore said, which costs $120 per month. Church of the Holy Comforter has agreed to collect donations and write a check to pay the balance of the storage and shipping bill, she said.

So far, more than $3,000 has been raised locally, and Simaton said they’ve raised about $850 on their end.

Mark Ladnier of Charlotte has an adult daughter who also has cerebral palsy, and their family is among those that donated equipment and spent time with Mayian over the summer. In October, Ladnier was part of a mission trip to Kenya and flew into Nairobi. He and several others had an opportunity to spend a few hours with Mayian and Simaton at the Therapies For Kids center, a nonprofit Mayian’s parents founded in 2011 to provide therapy for children with mental and physical disabilities.

“It’s a very nice facility in a nice office complex,” he said. “Some of the equipment they’ve got is fairly recent and is comparable to what we’d have, but there’s a need for much more.

“The equipment that’s here will be an incredible blessing for these children,” Ladnier said. “Some of the kids are 6 or older, and their parents are still carrying them because they don’t have a way to get around. Having a wheelchair will really enhance their quality of life and help them to be mobile.”

Mayian is using a wheelchair that Ladnier’s daughter had outgrown. Simaton said since they returned from Charlotte, Mayian has been more independent in a number of ways, including visiting friends around their neighborhood on his own.

Sturkey and Fennimore, both with Child and Family Development, were among the numerous therapists who worked with Mayian during his trip, and Fennimore said it feels good knowing their work was beneficial to him. The family has implemented most of the suggestions made while in Charlotte, Sturkey said, and they remain in regular contact.

Local therapists also remain in contact with Wanja, who is among the five therapists who work at Therapies for Kids, Fennimore said. They are able to help mentor her through email. “We’re in the beginning phases of figuring out how to best do that and talk out strategies with her,” she said, adding she and Sturkey are hopeful about support they’re able to provide.

“It’s been an eye-opening experience. If anyone had ever told me I’d be helping on a personal level for something in Africa, more than writing a check,” Fennimore said, “I never could have imagined.”

Trenda: 704-358-5089; Twitter: @htrenda

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