Whether it’s finding the perfect apartment or taking public transportation, it can be easy to take for granted what mobility and independence allows us to do. However, for many people in our community with disabilities, barriers to access can create unnecessary challenges. Paraquad’s mission is to create a more integrated society that is free of barriers and discrimination. For more than 50 years, the nonprofit has empowered people with disabilities, providing resources that offer them more choice and greater opportunities for independence.

From independent living and employment to assistive devices and personal care attendants, Paraquad works with people with disabilities to help them achieve personal goals, access resources and take advantage of new opportunities. “We offer a hub of resources,” explains Aimee Wehmeier, the nonprofit’s president. “We help thousands of people annually, including those seeking assistance with an aging parent. For someone who has incurred a disability, this is a new way of living, and they must learn to navigate things differently. One way we build community is by showing people that there still can be quality of life with a change in ability.”

Wehmeier notes that one of the most important components of Paraquad’s mission is providing a platform for people with disabilities to help make St. Louis more accessible for everyone. The majority of the nonprofit’s staff and board members have disabilities. “We teach people from our own experiences while learning from others how we can create new opportunities,” she says. “St. Louis is home to so many different and diverse communities. When St. Louis is accessible for people with disabilities, it benefits everyone.” The nonprofit works with other organizations to advocate for accessibility in a variety of critical areas, including accessible housing and public transportation.

Paraquad also works to create inclusive spaces for individuals living with disabilities. These include support groups, peer mentoring and the Stephen A. Orthwein Center, a fully accessible fitness center. The success of the supportive environment that Paraquard creates is evident in how it makes participants feel empowered and connected to a larger community. “This place has really become a critical part of my recovery, both physically and mentally,” notes Luis Herrera Plasencia, who participates in the nonprofit’s spinal injury support group. “Paraquad gave me not only the ability to be potentially independent, but also the opportunity to find a good community to fit in.”

Paraquad relies on community support to make its mission possible. Its largest annual fundraiser is the Shine the Light gala. This year’s event is Sept. 6 at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis, and it is centered on the nonprofit’s work connecting people to create community. “The gala is our best opportunity to share our mission and allow our supporters to learn the stories of the people impacted by the money raised,” Wehmeier says. “When we talk about building community, one of the most important things is the understanding that St. Louis is so much stronger when we include all of the people who live here, including those with disabilities.”

Paraquad champions equity and independence for people with disabilities through services, partnerships, education and advocacy. Its Shine the Light gala is Sept. 6 at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis. Pictured on the cover: Peer outreach specialist Datyn Sodsaikitch, participant Luis Herrera Plasencia. For more information, call 314.289.4200 or visit paraquad.org.

Cover design by Julie Streiler
Cover photo by Colin Miller of Strauss Peyton Photography

Pictured at the top: Paraquad participant Luis Herrera Plasencia
Photo: Colin Miller of Strass Peyton Photography