Tiffany Elkins never imagined she would give a second thought to doorway width.
But it is of many accessibility matters the 42-year-old Belton mother continues to discover as her 6-year-old daughter, Molly Kate, gets older.
As Molly Kate grows, the struggle to lift her on a fairly regular basis is becoming increasingly difficult, but a new foundation aims to help ease that task.
The Raising Wheels Foundation selected the Elkins family as its first accessibility grant program recipient to help Molly Kate Elkins, who lives a life on wheels.
The grant, funded through community donations, will provide the family a “life assist table,” an accessibility aide that insurance does not cover, Raising Wheels founder and Executive Director Melissa Copp said. The organization had its first official fundraiser during the city’s Waco Wonderland event, and it already has an invitation to attend the next one, Copp said. She founded the organization last January, and it is “days away from” gaining 501©(3) nonprofit status with the IRS. The foundation has a board of five members from across Texas with backgrounds in various professions, Copp said.
The foundation was the result of a blessing bestowed on her own family, Copp said.
They were featured in a season 5 episode of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper” in which Chip and Joanna Gaines, with a guest appearance from Tim Tebow, renovated their home with accommodations for her boys, Calan, 10, and Lawson, 6. They were each diagnosed with a genetic condition, which only has a handful of confirmed cases worldwide, and use wheelchairs.
The show helped them connect with families across the world with a member who has the same, still-unnamed condition as her children. The families immediately started networking and sharing their knowledge since there is little research available on the condition, Copp said.
“Their life is actually not short of joy,” Copp said of her children. “They provide us nonstop joy. They really truly know the secret. They wake up every day, ‘What else are we going to do today?’ From day one they’ve been fighters.”
Paying it forward
With the help they have received and the knowledge they have gained in the past decade, Copp said she and her husband, Jody, hope to share resources and help other families on their own journeys.
“We have gone through a 10-year battle with so many hardships,” she said. “We lived and breathed them. We’ve been able to live every day basically unlocking new hardships on a daily basis. … I had no idea it was this hard to live life on wheels. We’re definitely ready for the challenge to get a better accessible world for them and others.”
They have a life assist table similar to the one the foundation is getting for the Elkins, and it has helped them so much, they wish every family could have one, Jody Copp said. One of the foundation’s major goals is to raise money to help make homes more accessible in small ways that insurance companies will not pay for, he said.
The foundation’s other goals are to share educational resources and raise awareness, and to partner with businesses, schools and other entities to review accessibility options.
Elkins said she was unaware of many accessibility challenges before her daughter’s birth. Especially out in public, many sinks are inaccessible because Molly Kate’s wheelchair will not fit under them, and some doorways are not wide enough to roll through, she said.
She met Copp a few years ago, and connecting with other parents facing similar challenges has been a major help.
“The first two years were spent grieving over the things we knew she was not going to be able to do,” Elkins said. “But the past few years we’ve been able to focus on the things she can do and opportunities we can look for to allow her to do whatever she feels like doing. At times it’s frustrating, because we see so many barriers to accessibility, but it’s also given us a purpose I guess to help educate other people to know that when we speak out and educate others, it may help Molly Kate, but more importantly, it may help others as well.”
The new table will make daily tasks easier so the family can focus more on things that make Molly Kate smile, like cheerleading and bowling, Elkins said.
“She loves to smile. If you meet her one time you remember her smile,” she said. “She definitely has more friends than we do. Everybody knows her. She has a very sweet disposition, a very sweet smile. She loves balls and dolls, her two big things that she loves. She lights up a room for sure.”
Melissa Copp said she is excited about the new year and the opportunities that await in finding ways to bless other families to make the world accessible to everyone.
Wash ‘N Roll
Raising Wheels will hold a Wash ‘N Roll event from noon to 3 p.m. March 23 at Hope and Believe Therapy Clinic, 4900 Sanger Ave. Wheelchairs will get washed, parents will get pampered and the kids will roll out in style from the free community event. Copp said the foundation is seeking volunteers and sponsors for the event, and anyone interested can reach out at Melissa@RaisingWheels.com.