Volunteers at Akron Children’s Hospital are as unique as the patients they serve. They’re magicians, bakers, teachers and even dogs, who, regardless of background or breed, come to the hospital with a desire to help others. This definitely holds true for Chanté Kightlinger who doesn’t let her wheelchair get in the way of volunteering or showing patients that people with disabilities can give back, too.
At 26, Chanté has overcome amazing medical obstacles – 29 surgeries in all – including life-saving procedures for hydrocephalus and spina bifida at birth, as well as complex corrections for clubbed feet and strabismus. While the odds weren’t always in her favor, Chanté defied them thanks, in part, to her strong will and support from others.
After graduating from Stow-Munroe Falls High School, a milestone many thought wasn’t possible given her mental and physical disabilities, Chanté felt it was her turn to give back. As a former Akron Children’s patient, she knew the hospital was the perfect place for her to volunteer.
“In 2011, I started volunteering in the (Emily Cooper Welty) Expressive Therapy Center’s music class because I love music and kids,” said Chanté. “I sing with the kids sometimes but mostly I help them find an instrument, encourage them to play along and help clean up afterward…I really like doing it.”
Music therapy is fun for patients who need a break from an inpatient setting or a typical therapy session. The bright, inviting classroom offers enough room for everyone – regardless of ability – to come together to play, listen and enjoy one another’s company.
And, it’s this coming together as a group that really resonates with Chanté. Having spent most of her life in a wheelchair, Chanté knows first-hand what it feels like when people see her chair first and the person in it second.
“I don’t want people to just see my chair…I want them to get to know me,” said Chanté. “Volunteering helps me show kids that people in wheelchairs are just like people without them…we like to help and be a part of a group.”
Chanté also takes her message of being better together to local elementary schools where she talks to kids about disabilities.
“The first question I ask kids is, ‘how many of you are afraid of people in wheelchairs?’ and they nearly all say yes,” said Chanté. “It’s really shocking, but I think it’s because they’ve never talked to someone in a wheelchair so it’s unfamiliar. By the end of our conversation, kids come up to me and say I’m not afraid anymore which makes me feel so good.”
It’s this feel-good feeling that keeps Chanté coming back to the hospital each week to volunteer, proving that her wheelchair is just a seat she brings to the table; it doesn’t limit her desire to help others.