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Hopscotch challenge to finance change

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LaKiesha Wolffe is tired of being overlooked.

It has been her experience in Bermuda since her leg was amputated above the knee following a “freak accident” seven years ago.

With change in mind she is in the process of creating the Disability Centre of Bermuda and plans to set up the island’s first prosthetics clinic. Also on her to-do list: establishing a disability policy for the 3,000-plus people with “mental, physical and learning” challenges here that is made mandatory in the workplace.

Jumping to it: LaKiesha Wolffe and Jonari Smith of A New Life. The charity will host a hopscotch challenge as a fundraiser for the island's disabled

“I feel that’s why God allowed me to go through all of this because he knows I have the voice, he knows that I have the attitude to get it done,” she said. “I’m not going to be sorry for my attitude towards the way disability is in Bermuda. I love my PLP government. They have gone above and beyond for me in certain cases but [being disabled] in Bermuda sucks. Why do we have a Disability Advisory Council when nothing is done? What are they advising if nothing is getting done?

“You know why? Because there’s nobody with a disability doing the advising. A physical, real disability. I know what it’s like to be paralysed. I know what it’s like to drive handicapped. I know what it’s like to struggle to go up steps, walk up hills. I know what it’s like to be in a wheelchair 24/7. I know a lot of the physical aspects of being handicapped because I face it every day. My [prosthetic] leg comes off at the end of the day. I go home and I get in a wheelchair and I have to cook, clean. I do everything form my wheelchair most times because my leg has to come off so that I don’t get sores.”

She’s hoping the community turns up next month for the hopscotch challenge she’s issued to everyone over the age of 12. In the US this year the challenge went viral, with people recording themselves jumping in teams to music. Ms Wolffe has organised it as a fundraiser for A New Life, the charity she started with an aim of providing support services for people with disabilities.

“The actual hopscotch challenge is done to an old school song from back in the day called the Double Dutch Bus. I thought it could be fun, something different in Bermuda. A lot of people are engaging in the video so we’re hoping we can get the response that we want, for people to sign up and come out and actually enjoy this event.”

With so little being done for Bermuda’s disabled the fundraiser is especially important, Ms Wolffe said. Operated on in the US after her 2013 accident when she went over a cliff at Pompano Beach Club, she returned home and was “treated like crap”.

“Being handicapped in Bermuda, it’s the most awful experience and I know that because I go back and forth to my doctors overseas; I don’t ever feel handicapped in America.

“I am sick and I am tired of hearing certain people saying that we’re going to do this, we’re going to do that and then do nothing in the many years [the government has] been in power; the many years you’ve had to make change. I’m so sick of it. I feel like they need to hire somebody who has full capability of consulting for the disabled in Bermuda.”

Her goal is to ensure that people with the power to enforce change are held accountable for their inaction, something she hopes to achieve by “growing” A New Life into Disability Centre of Bermuda.

“I will fight. I will do everything I can to make sure that these people start putting disability first,” Ms Wolffe said. “I’m trying to get companies to [put in place] a disability policy, which I will write myself because they don’t have that in Bermuda. I want to be what Age Concern and Ageing and Disability Services are; I want to be that for disabled in Bermuda. We want to provide services that government doesn’t see as a necessity.”

The 39-year-old doesn’t know how she would have survived the past seven years without “lots of help” from her parents, William and Pinky, her brother “Binky”, her sisters Vanessa and Tiffany, her cousin Barbara Ann Paynter, her aunt and uncle Debbie and Albert Botelho and their daughters Melissa and Ashley and “my whole Wolffe family”; her best friend Kelly Ann, the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation, Jennifer Burland Adams, Shannon Dill and teachers at the Bermuda College where she completed a two-year accounting programme in 13 months.

“Before my accident I was so independent,” said the former waitress who was forced to live with her parents after her accident. “I was in the process of buying my own house. I had just bought a brand new car, a Jeep Patriot, and I lost everything.”

Depressed and suicidal, she willed herself to improve for the sake of her then five-year-old daughter.

“I decided to pack up and move out. I moved back on my own into a house with maybe 16 steps to get to my door. My laundry room was down the steps. I didn’t even have a prosthetic yet. I was still healing. I still had staples. I just went and I started living on my own. And it was so hard. It was so hard.

“Slowly but surely I went back to school, to Bermuda College. I ended up working four nights a week and going to college full-time days.”

Ms Wolffe continued to look for things that would boost her confidence. After the birth of a second daughter four years ago, she went to a US clinic and was matched with her dream prosthesis.

“I’d been in a prosthetic in Bermuda for five years and I could not walk. I had a baby and I could not come off crutches. I couldn’t even get on a cane. And they kept making me feel like it was my fault. But the leg I had, I couldn’t do it.

“I went over there and got this leg in one week; an amazing leg. It brought my self-esteem up so much. The person that worked with me was an above-knee amputee himself; one of the owners of the clinic. And it clicked to me – this is what we’re missing in Bermuda.

“I’m looking for a serious partnership, whether it be with government, an insurance company, a doctor’s office … I’m looking for a serious investor to help open up Bermuda’s first prosthetics care clinic where prosthetics will get made on island.”

Courses in various disciplines moved her forward as did the expertise she gained through BEDC’s Enterprise Bermuda incubator programme which ultimately led to the creation of A New Life and her drive for change.

“It changed my life inside and out,” she said. “Not just business wise but inside and out. Everything about it changed me. The fact that disability has been so swept under the mat in Bermuda – it’s crazy. Nobody cares. And the reason I say nobody cares is because we have the power and the people that can change this and they don’t want to pay us [to do it]. And we’re the ones that need the jobs.

“Some of us are not looking to be rich. We just want to support our families. You think all of us want to stay on financial assistance for the rest of our lives? No. It’s been a hard and very challenging long road but now I have my own business space and a great team beside me.”

A New Life’s hopscotch challenge has been postponed until Sunday, November 15. For more information: 703-9912, 777-2510, info@anewlife.org

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Published October 15, 2020 at 7:00 am (Updated October 16, 2020 at 3:47 pm)

Hopscotch challenge to finance change

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