Editor’s note: In a nod to the Thanksgiving holiday, reporters for the Shopping section of Court Street Stories have decided to “shop” for a local Athens charity. What better way to say “thanks” than to find an organization worthy of a donation or volunteer work? And full disclosure: Both the author (Dan Shisler) and editor (Bob Benz) of this story are part of Keep Noah Rolling, the organization that’s attempting to secure funds for Noah’s van.
Thanksgiving, for many Americans, means a time to stuff themselves, watch the Detroit Lions, get their holiday shopping done or purchase a new set of appliances at an insanely low price. Yet the true spirit of Thanksgiving, giving thanks, often sadly takes a back seat to more commercial and materialistic interests.
I would like to gently remind our readers to put the turkey, football and discounts aside for a moment, and take some time to count your blessings. This holiday is a great opportunity to give thanks for all the small things that many people take for granted every day. For example: the basic abilities to walk and talk. Now, imagine your life without them.
For Noah Trembly, an Athens resident, that is his reality. Noah has cerebral palsy. Since birth, Noah has been living with a condition that prevents him from performing the most mundane actions that able-bodied people perform mindlessly every day. Noah uses a motorized wheelchair to move around and a sophisticated communication device to speak. At first glance, many people see a broken man. But I assure you: sitting inside that uncooperative body is a brilliant mind, a deviously witty sense of humor and a genuine and selfless soul.
I first learned about Noah in my strategic communication senior capstone class at Ohio University, when my professor, Bob Benz, announced that we would be working on a special project: helping one of his disabled friends raise money for a new handicap-accessible van. At first, I thought it was a good cause, but the kind of thing you hear about all the time. Just another guy in a wheelchair, just another charity case. Until I met Noah.
When Noah came to speak to the class, I could sense there was something different about him. The way he rolled into the classroom with bright eyes and a devilish grin instantly gave credence to Benz’s many anecdotes of an infectious and amicable personality. Noah, speaking through his device, told us his story. He told us how he has been living with this terrible condition his entire life. He told us about how it was an incredible struggle for him to get through school. He told us how one of his principals told his mother that he would probably never amount to anything, that he would probably never live a fulfilling or meaningful life.
The principal couldn’t have been more wrong.
Noah Trembly has been defying the odds ever since. His story is one of resilience and inspiration. Noah did not let his condition define him; he has overcome expectations and defined himself. Noah lives independently, albeit with the constant assistance of a caregiver. But that hasn’t stopped him from living his own life. Noah is a Grateful Dead fan. Noah is a skier. Noah is a gardener. Noah is a vegetarian (in fact, you may have seen him zipping around the Athens Farmers Market). Noah is an artist. But most importantly, Noah is a worker.
Noah, working through his company, Noah Trembly Enterprises, is an advocate for the disabled and a handicap-accessibility consultant. He is currently heading an initiative to improve the quality and wheelchair accessibility of sidewalks in Athens. Noah has consulted for Ohio University and has even been a lecturer at the institution. For someone with no control over his vocal cords, Noah speaks a lot. In fact, Noah has traveled throughout the state and the country giving talks. For travel, Noah relies on an old and decrepit van that is on its last legs. For Noah’s meaningful work to continue, a new van is essential.
Our capstone class devised a social media strategy to raise awareness and produce donations for Keep Noah Rolling, the charity whose goal it is to raise the $60,000 required for a new accessible van. With the help of Tony’s Tavern and Jackie O’s Brewpub, we held an event on Nov. 14 that we called Keep Noah Shuffling, our take on the age-old Court Street tradition. But instead of raising our BAC, we raised money for a great cause. A portion of every signature Tony’s Hot Nut sold that night went directly to the new van. Jackie O’s even brewed a very tasty beer especially for the occasion, with $2 from every pint sold going directly to the cause. We also accepted donations from generous patrons. All said and done, we raised over $2,000 that night. Unfortunately, that accounts for only a fraction of our lofty goal. For me though, the reward was the expression on Noah’s face after the event.
While we counted the donations in front of him at the end of the night, Noah’s face lit up and he let out what I’ve come to know as one of his signature bouts of boisterous belly-laughter. His smile was that of a man overwhelmed with gratitude for the tremendous outpouring of support from the community, local businesses, friends and total strangers alike. Our event was but the start of a movement; we still have a long road ahead of us.
Like so many of us, Noah simply wants to live independently, without government assistance, and to lead a fulfilling and meaningful life. Noah doesn’t want a donation; he wants an investment. By investing in Noah, you are investing in his ability to help enable and empower others in similar situations.
So this Thanksgiving, give thanks, give a damn, and give your support to this wonderful cause.