By Nate Smith
WASHINGTON — Both Gretchen Brown and Cameron Wilson have lofty goals, and dreams that needed a little help to see them realized. Both have disabilities and know the advances in technology would open a world of learning, but that technology was not affordable.
Enter the Travis Burkhart Foundation. The foundation, now in its sixth year, made the gifts of two iPads for Gretchen and Cameron to help them further overcome their disabilities. Gretchen, 14, is blind and Cameron, 14, is autistic.
The idea for the iPad for Cameron came during a recent bone marrow drive set up by Cameron’s father, Duane Wilson. According to Kim Burkhart, mother of Travis and a foundation board member, the two started talking when Travis had his iPad out and Cameron watched him use it. Duane had thought about purchasing one for his son, but had not.
“I said ‘You know what? Go to our webpage and see if we can help,’” Kim said. “So, when I brought it to the board, it was just unanimous.”
That was April 28, according to Travis. Soon after, Wilson and David Brown, Gretchen’s father, were talking about the gift by the board. A month later, they applied and Gretchen received an iPad for herself.
Gretchen, along with her family, was happy to receive the gift.
“I was surprised and I didn’t think I would be able to get one because they are so expensive and stuff,” Gretchen said. “This will support me with educational purposes because a lot of kids at school have them.”
The foundation’s donation will support Gretchen in a very high goal she wants to obtain in high school.
“I want to be valedictorian,” Gretchen said.
Gretchen wrote the foundation a thank-you letter in braille.
Tablets in therapy
The use of tablets has been a boon because of the therapeutic aspects it can bring. According to Travis’ father, Mike Burkhart, his son has benefited greatly from the tablet.
“He’s got so much good use out of his, he is now on his second one,” Mike said. “They are very versatile and they have come a long way with therapeutic applications.”
For Cameron, who has moderate to severe autism, most of his learning takes place visually. That is where the tablet, along with its variety of applications, has already produced benefits to the child.
“By him having this, he’s going to benefit greatly at school,” Wilson said. “You can actually see him practice his emotions in the mirror after seeing them on the iPad.”
Apple has a variety of apps that are created specifically for autism and Duane said he was “ecstatic” he got an iPad of his own.
“He can sit down and he can spell,” Wilson said. “The intelligence level is there, it’s just a matter of getting it out. Hopefully the iPad will be a tool for him.”
For Gretchen, the tablet might not make sense unless one remembers the voice and speech capabilities of computers like the iPad. For example, the Browns use an app called “Tap, Tap, See,” which takes a photo and tells the user what is exactly in that photo.
“I took a picture of water bottle with ice and it said ‘water bottle with ice,’” Gretchen said.
Later this month, Gretchen will be going to Orlando, Fla., for a National Foundation of the Blind conference. She will be taking her iPad with her and will learn more uses to better help her.
Continuing good work
To get started, both submitted applications for assistance to the Burkhart foundation on its website, travisburkhartfoundation.com. From there, all the applications are reviewed by the foundation board for requests like gasoline for travel to and from hospitals, rehab locations, doctor appointments, meals, hotel and various other expenses.
“Like when Duane and Dave sent their (applications) in, they explained their situations and how we could help,” Kim said. “And the funds were available and we were able to do it.”
The foundation, in addition to assistance, gives a book to its recipients on information for families that are taking care of a loved one with a traumatic brain injury. It also gives information on programs and foundations there to help families.
“A lot of times with these programs, you have to fall in line,” Mike said. “In that period of time, we have been able to gain some resources and insights.”
The foundation started as the Burkhart’s way to pay back the community for the support of Travis, who suffered a fracture of the C2 vertebrae and a severe closed head (traumatic brain injury) in a car accident on Feb. 12, 2008.
Travis continues to receive therapy six days a week and continues to improve with each day. Recently at the Indiana University NeuroScience Center in Indianapolis, he started a therapy called “Zero G,” which uses computerized winches and sensors that has helps Travis gain balance, muscle memory and eventually help him walk unassisted, which is one of his goals.
The foundation has a busy summer planned to raise funds to help more families like the Browns and Wilsons. To date, the foundation has helped over 70 families in the community, some more than once. All proceeds raised by the foundation go back into the community, minus some operating expenses.
On Aug. 3, the sixth annual Travis Burkhart Foundation Golf Scramble will be held at Country Oaks Golf Club. The event, which has grown over the years, has always been a good time for the participants and the foundation.
They hope to have a full roster of 72 teams at this year’s scramble, and another bone marrow drive will also be held at the scramble. Those who want to participate can contact Lyn May at 598-0563.
A new event this year for the foundation but has already gained a lot of popularity is the foundation¹s “Day at the Park,” on Aug. 24 when the St. Louis Cardinals play the Atlanta Braves. The idea was presented to the Burkharts by a good friend, Jennifer Hadlock and she has become instrumental for setting up the event, Kim said. While this is the first year, many have bought tickets to be a part of the game. Over 500 tickets have been sold, and Kim said a goal is to sell the foundation¹s entire allotment of 620.
“We don’t want to send any of them back,” Kim said.
Tickets are a discounted $35, down from the retail price of $53 and can be purchased at the German American Bank branch at Cherry Tree Plaza. T-shirts are also going to be available and can be purchased at the End Zone.
Proceeds from the T-shirt sale will go to the foundation, regardless if one attends the game or not.
The buzz around the game has been electric. The Cardinals met Travis earlier this year, and they plan to have him throw the first pitch at the game.
Also, Travis will get to meet and hang out with his favorite Cardinal, David Freese.
On Oct. 19, the foundation will once again hold its “Steps for Hope” 5K/10K run/walk. The event raises money to provide therapeutic riding sessions to the handicapped. Last year, it was held on I-69 before it opened to the general public. Those interested can contact Kim at 257-4492 or Susan Nichols Ramsey at 430-6626.
The goal of the foundation now, Mike said, is not only to help families with expenses, but to eventually help supplement income.
“We learned that when Kim gave up her job to take care of Travis, we know how much of a financial burden it placed on us, even though we had insurance,” Mike said. “We knew what that looked like, the bills don’t stop. You have the burden of recovery already and the last thing you need is to be worrying about the hidden expenses that insurance doesn’t cover,” Kim said.
The foundation just received its federal non-profit status and is now a member of the Daviess County United Way. Donations to the United Way now can go to the foundation. The foundation is also in the process of writing grants to find more funds for projects, one for an idea that gives overnight bags to families introducing them to the foundation.
“We’ve got big lofty plans and the faith to know that God will lead us where he wants us to be and what he wants us to become,” Kim said.
Also, there are families, Mike said, that have been helped by the foundation in the past that want to pay their kindness forward to others.
“It has kind of bled. People want to pay it forward.”
If one would like to donate, participate or volunteer for the foundation, one can visit the foundation’s website or contacting the foundation’s board members, including David Frette, Tyson Wagler, Lyn May, Doug May, or Kim, Mike or Travis Burkhart.