Three Fort Wayne firefighters and eight Bearded Villains joined forces Saturday to help a local boy feel the breeze on his face once again.
Uriiyah Meyer, 12, uses a wheelchair. He can't walk or talk because part of his brain didn't form normally before birth. The rare condition is called schizencephaly and is thought to be caused by a fetal stroke early in the pregnancy.
When he was smaller, Uriiyah's mom and dad would take him to a park and push him in a swing designed to support children with disabilities. He loved the feeling of gliding through the air, his mom said.
But now that Uriiyah weighs about 150 pounds, lifting him from his wheelchair and lowering him into a swing isn't feasible for Alisha and Mike Meyer. What Uriiyah needed was a wheelchair platform swing.
So Alisha Meyer reached out to We Are RARE Inc., a Florida-based nonprofit that raises money for schizencephaly research and serves as an information source for families. The organization also makes grants and was eager to help the Meyer family.
“It is pretty cool. It's exciting,” Ron Casella, the nonprofit's co-founder, said about seeing the smile on a child's face the first time he tries out a new swing.
Casella said the special swing sets cost about $1,800. After arranging delivery to the Fort Wayne family, he hit the phones and found volunteers to assemble the equipment.
That's where the firefighters from Station 15 and the Bearded Villains entered the picture.
Fort Wayne Fire Department staff volunteers time to some special projects like this, firefighter Travis Hostler said.
“We always appreciate the opportunity to help the community,” he said, adding it's especially nice when it's not an emergency situation.
The Bearded Villains of Northern Indiana is a group of about 30 guys who are as devoted to supporting charitable causes as they are to their facial hair. They volunteer at soup kitchens, clothing drives and other fundraisers.
Eight members, who consider themselves “beard enthusiasts,” showed up for Saturday's build, some from as far away as northwest Indiana. One member drove in from Wisconsin to participate.
Brian Phillips, the northern Indiana chapter's captain, said his nonprofit wants people to know that “not every big, bearded, tattooed guy is scary.” And they don't all ride motorcycles.
His members wielded drills, hammers and levels to ensure the platform swing was sturdy and safe. The build took about two hours, including 30 minutes or more spent making sure the platform where Uriiyah's wheelchair would sit was level and high enough off the ground to allow for a swinging motion.
The project was more challenging because a morning downpour made the ground marshy, and space is relatively tight between the trailers parked in Dupont Estates.
When the task was completed, Uriiyah's wheelchair was wheeled onto the platform and strapped into place. Once the swing started moving, Uriiyah's smile was one of pure joy.
“He's such a good little boy, and he's such a happy little dude. He's so deserving of this,” Alisha Meyer said. “We are, seriously, so grateful.”
She wishes public playgrounds would install wheelchair platform swings.
“Every kids wants to be included, whether they're in a wheelchair or not,” she said. “This gives him the opportunity to feel like a normal kid.”