- Associated Press - Friday, December 2, 2016

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - For 12 years, Crystal Stockwell couldn’t take a shower.

Stockwell, who has used a wheelchair since she was 4 following a diagnosis of cerebral palsy, lived with her grandmother in a duplex, next door to her mother and four brothers, the Missourian (https://bit.ly/2fJT5Ky ) reported. The bathroom was too small for the wheelchair, so showers were impossible.

Her grandmother, mother and workers from home health agencies gave her sponge baths in bed, brushed her teeth and did the rest of her personal-care tasks.

Eight months ago, everything changed.

Stockwell found a place where she would need minimal assistance to take care of herself. She worked with Alternative Community Training, a nonprofit private agency in Columbia that helps those with disabilities live independently.

The agency helps people with disabilities “connect with their community - living, working, playing.” An array of housing, employment and other services is provided annually to about 400 people.

Stockwell, 34, found her house through the agency’s community living program after her grandmother, who has both breast and pancreatic cancer, could no longer take care of her.

Initially, after months of looking, Stockwell couldn’t find any suitable housing. Then in March, the owner of a house on Brunswick Drive called Alternative Community Training, thinking he might have the perfect place for her.

The three-bedroom house in northeast Columbia has spacious rooms so Stockwell could move freely from bedroom to kitchen to living room without assistance. One bedroom had been turned into an office with a single bed so agency staff could take turns sleeping overnight.

Before Stockwell moved in, the owner remodeled the place at no extra cost to make it more convenient. He removed a bathtub, knocked down a wall and turned a closet into a shower that can double as a storm shelter.

“That was a definite sign to me that ‘yes, you’re supposed to be here,’” Stockwell said.

Although she can now live on her own, she still needs daily assistance. At 7 each morning, an agency staff member arrives to help her bathe, dress, eat breakfast and take her medicine. Someone is also on hand to help accomplish other routine tasks throughout the day.

“One of my goals when coming here was to make friends with … whoever was going to be taking care of me,” Stockwell said. “I don’t have very many friends, so building friendships and being able to communicate back and forth is real important to me..”

Alternative Community Training also works with clients to complete at least 75 percent of the activities they set out to do each year - cooking, visiting a museum or seeing a play, for instance. Thanks to the agency, Stockwell, a Disney enthusiast, has visited Marceline, Missouri, Walt Disney’s hometown. She also saw a “Disney on Ice” production earlier this year.

Over time, she has purchased a series of Disney Princess Dolls, including Elsa from “Frozen,” her favorite film. In October, Alternative Community Training helped Stockwell meet the actress playing Belle in a stage production of “Beauty and the Beast.”

Stockwell has also learned to bake. She surprised her grandmother by baking a yellow cake with chocolate frosting on her birthday. Stockwell paused as she told the story to take a deep breath and recall the cake’s sweet smell and taste.

“It brought tears to her eyes,” she said with a smile. “To know that I could do something like that just made her really happy.”

During every major decision, Stockwell uses her faith to determine her next steps.

“I was raised in church. I have a strong belief in God and prayer,” she said. “Prayer has gotten me through a lot of tough times and making a lot of tough decisions.”

She has self-published a Christian-themed book of poetry about rapture, love, peace and faith.

“I wrote about things that are dear to my heart - difficult things that people go through in their lives,” she said.

Stockwell serves on Alternative Community Training’s Health and Safety and Accessibility committees. She wanted to share her ideas about how to improve safety for the disabled.

She doesn’t know what the future holds, but Stockwell said she’s leaving it up to God and welcomes all good surprises.

She is still adding to her bucket list, like surprising her family and going to Jimmy Swaggart’s church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“I just want to enjoy life and live it to the fullest,” she said. “For me, this has a special meaning because of what my grandma is going through. It’s a reminder to live like I’m going to die tomorrow.”


Information from: Columbia Missourian, https://www.columbiamissourian.com

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