Friday, March 10, 2017

CReATE's Tom Boman: a success story that keeps on giving

Tom Boman coordinates the CReATE program in
Salt Lake City.
It’s a familiar story with a surprise twist: Man acquires a disability. Man loses job. Man gets another job. Thanks to this unexpected career change, hundreds of other Utahns get moving again.

Tom Boman has been with UATP since 2013—long enough that his “happily ever after” has some hefty numbers behind it. Since he started with the CReATE (Citizens Reutilizing Assistive Technology Equipment) program in Salt Lake City, he has helped 569 people receive mobility devices that otherwise might have ended up in the dump. Without the program’s help, many, many people would not have been able to move as independently.

His story with the Utah Assistive Technology Program began with the sudden onset of vertigo. “I still don’t have a diagnosis,” he said. “I’ve been to all the rock star specialists in Salt Lake.” With time, he figured out that his symptoms were much better when he was moving around, and that allowed him to stop using heavy medication. But his days of working at a desk were over.

Tom poses with Gideon, a wheelchair recipient.
Boman poses with Gideon, one of  many happy clients.

He started work with Deseret Industries, an employment program that teaches new skills to its associates, first within the setting of the DI thrift store and then, after a trial period, with temporary business partnerships. And that is how Boman first met Clay Christensen, the Assistive Technology Lab Coordinator at UATP. Both CReATE and UATP are part of the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University.

Christensen put Boman to work in the Logan AT Lab while Deseret Industries paid his wages as part of the internship program. Christensen noticed right away that Boman was comfortable with tools, he had an excellent work ethic and he was able to keep organized in an environment that could easily be overwhelmed with donations.

Rollin Woodward, another client
At the time, CReATE was operating as a UATP initiative in Salt Lake, but it needed a new person to staff it. Someone who was self-motivated, organized and good at tinkering with mechanical things. Christensen offered the position to Tom, who commuted between Salt Lake and Logan for a year before he became a full-time coordinator of the program--and a Salt Lake City resident.

“He went down there and he turned it around,” Christensen said. In 2014 the program was transferring about 10 devices a month. In 2016 the average was around 20.

Boman’s job has helped many, many people along the way. “I can’t sit, but I work with people who can’t walk,” he said. CReATE fills a need that often goes unnoticed in Utah. After all, if people are unable to move independently, they’re not likely to be out on the street where they can be noticed. But their joy at getting their mobility back is unmistakable.

“It’s quite common for some of the mobility devices we transfer to almost become an extension of people’s bodies,” Boman said in an earlier interview. “We refurbished a power wheelchair for a lady that enabled her to continue her work on a medical assembly production line. The power seat on her previous chair stopped working, and she spent months not being able to change her body position for her ten-hour shifts. The power wheelchair we worked on for her has power rehabilitation seating that enables her to elevate herself up to the correct height, and to vary her body position to eliminate fatigue and injury. Seeing that direct impact on people’s lives makes this work very rewarding.”

photo of Daemon
Daemon Wabel
Stacey Webel turned to CReATE when her son, Daemon, outgrew his chair and the $4000 deductible on a new one was just too far out of reach. Boman found a chair that would work, made some modifications so that it would continue to suit the needs of a growing boy. When they introduced Daemon to his new chair, it was a happy moment. He cannot speak, but he communicated all the same. “He screamed with delight,” Stacey said. “He was just bouncing around in there. He loved this chair.”

The need is real. Insurance typically pays for a wheelchair every five years, but they often break down before then. Warranties expire. Children outgrow their chairs. Sometimes, even when insurance does replace a chair, people often have to wait for weeks or months for it to arrive.

CReATE steps in to fill the these gaps, taking donated chairs, refurbishing them and providing them to people who need them, often for less money than an insurance deductible.

The program serves people regardless of age, income or insurance status. It does it on a shoestring, with the help of Boman, a part-time staff member and a group of dedicated volunteers.

Need a wheelchair, knee scooter or other mobility device? Visit the CReATE web page on the Utah Assistive Technology Program website. There, you can find a referral form. To contact CReATE directly, call 801.887.9398.

Want to help? Donations are always welcome. CReATE is working now to deliver a power wheelchair to Jacques, a young disability activist in Burkina Faso, Africa. The wheelchair is ready, but we must raise funds for the shipping. Find out more on the Yembre Go Fund Me page.