Lisette Wallen & Justin Hale

Community Presence

Lisette and Justin are not able to participate in most River’s Way programs due to the nature of their disabilities. When they are able to participate, our programs are better. Their contribution is their presence. By simply being there, Lisette and Justin are proof of the wisdom handed down from one of our long time board members, Greg Chudzik. Greg and his wife Peggy had a child with a disability named Kate. Kate could never leave her bed. When she passed at the age of 26, those who knew the family were profoundly affected. Kate had a great influence on the lives of her siblings and members of the youth group at her church. Her contribution to the world during her short life was her ability to make others feel loved. As Greg has stated on many occasions, Kate was a beacon for those around her. In his words: “She was our greatest blessing”.

Lisette and Justin have been River’s Way participants for many years. Justin has cerebral palsy with minimal use of his legs. He joined us in the late 90’s when he participated in outdoor activities including rafting, canoeing and our high ropes course. Justin also took part in many overnight camps. More recently, Justin has participated in our Theatre Bristol plays and he has joined us at the YMCA and on our Emory and Henry Saturday trips. Regardless of the program, regardless of the weather or the degree of discomfort, Justin has always maintained a positive attitude along with a great sense of humor. He rarely complains and he sets an example for staff and participants alike.

With her condition, Lisette requires a personal attendant and a setting where she is able to recover from seizures. When she does participate, whether it is with River’s Way or at her church, she enriches the lives of others by simply being there. Lisette has been a part of our River’s Way Christmas/ Hanukkah concerts each December. She usually sits in the front row where she brings a sense of serenity and peace. Once a week, as her condition allows, she joins us at the YMCA of Bristol, where we play music and work out on the exercise balls. Lisette’s joyous laughter is contagious bringing joy to each one of us. She also joins us for community walks and attends our annual awareness raising event each October.

We are grateful to River’s Way participants like Lisette and Justin. They contribute by bringing joy and warmth through their presence. It is easy to overlook people with disabilities and the gifts that they bring. It just takes opportunities to get to know them and River’s Way is committed to providing those opportunities.

Community Benefits

  • People of all abilities have opportunities to share and benefit from friendships formed
  • People with differing abilities see that they belong in the community
  • Community members witness the intangible and often overlooked “gifts” that people with differing abilities bring

Lisette Wallen

Justin Hale