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Patient gets help from McCarty Center on his path to college

(Sept. 4, 2014)

     Ashli Velez and Dalton Blevens became friends through a shared sense of humor, the same taste in music and movies and hours spent battling each other at Guitar Hero.  

     The two met when Velez worked with Blevens when he was a preteen and a patient at the J.D. McCarty Center for children with developmental disabilities in Norman.

     Now, instead of watching Blevens hit the right notes on the Guitar Hero video game, Velez is seeing him segue into college life.

     And she gets the opportunity to help him in the process.

     Velez, a social worker, is part of the team of center employees working with Blevens, 18, as he enters his freshman year at the University of Oklahoma.

     Blevens, who has cerebral palsy, said he is excited about going to college and grateful to the center staff for their help and encouragement.

     “I’ve got a heck of a team,” he said.

     Velez and other team members say that working with Blevens has been a highlight, given his motivation, positive attitude and willingness to work hard.

     “It’s so exciting to see his independence and how much he’s able to do for himself and how much he wants to do for himself,” Velez said. “He’s incredible.”


Getting started

     Blevens graduated from Little Axe High School in May and knew he wanted to go to college, not just for the degree but also for the experience. He applied and was accepted to OU.

     Blevens knew McCarty Center employees could help him make the transition to college. He had watched a friend -- a former center patient -- attend OU last year after getting training and assistance from center staff.

     Blevens also knew from personal experience that center employees were ready to rally with him to accomplish his goals. He started using center services when he was 3 years old and “over the years, I just kind of fell in love. It’s like my second home.”

     Blevens believes his experiences as a patient have helped him improve his mobility and become more outgoing and social.

     “It’s given me a lot of friends and helped me form a lot of bonds,” he said. “I think I made a lot of progress coming to the center.”

     The center provides medical care and physical, occupational, speech and language therapy for children with developmental disabilities on an inpatient and outpatient basis and serves kids from birth to age 21.

     Blevens came to the center this summer as an inpatient and started working with the transition team. Team members include social workers, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, psychological clinician, speech-language pathologist, direct-care specialists and nurses.

     The employees have worked with Blevens on a variety of tasks, including making transfers from his power wheelchair to the bed and bathroom in his dorm, using public transportation, managing money, cooking and strengthening and exercising.

     Employees also have offered training on the dictation system he will use in class for taking notes and given him advice on how to handle the stress he may experience as a college student.

     Velez said employees from OU’s Housing and Food Services and the Disability Resource Center were a big help in the transition process, such as when it involved modifications to Blevens’ dorm room and with his accessibility on the campus.

     Team members also found other resources for Blevens through programs and agencies in the state. He was able to receive financial assistance for tuition and books from the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services and is using computers that he received on loan from Oklahoma ABLE Tech, Velez said.

     Blevens will also have help with personal care from aides with HealthCare Innovations and has received financial assistance from Ability Connect for campus parking passes for those aides, Velez said.


A bright future

     Velez has a card on her desk from Blevens with a photo of them together. He signed it, “Your JD son.”

     Velez said she does feel like Blevens is one of her own. “It’s so exciting that we’ve been able to watch him grow up and help him grow up.”

     She met Blevens in 2007 when she was a direct-care specialist. The specialists work one-on-one with patients and provide supervision and assistance.

     The two had fun watching movies, listening to music, making each other laugh and taking strolls around the center.

     In August, Velez was helping him unpack and rearrange furniture in his dorm room and joining him for lunch in the Oklahoma Memorial Union.

     She is excited to see Blevens in college and said he’s a smart guy who is a self-starter.

     “He’s got such an amazing attitude about his abilities,” Velez said. “He’s unstoppable and he’s going to go so far.”

     Velez isn’t the only team member who admires Blevens.

     Alyse Lesher, a social worker, said she is impressed with his people skills and his persistence.

     “As much as he can do for himself, he wants to do for himself,” Lesher said. “He’s just really easy to work with and work for.”

     John Every, an occupational therapist, said Blevens is “one of the most motivated young men I’ve worked with.”

     Other team members say Blevens can be a source of inspiration for other patients who may want to attend college or live on their own one day.

     Blevens’ family members also are delighted to see him pursuing his goal.

     Lanell Blevens, his grandmother, said he’s been talking about going to college for the last three years. She knows he is excited about the experience.

     “I think he’s going to be fine venturing out on his own,” she said.

     Blevens’ dad, James, said he is proud of his son and seeing what he has achieved. Currently, he is helping his son with personal care needs in the evenings and is impressed with how Blevens has handled settling into a new environment.

     “He’s working the jitters out and I think he’s going to do great,” James Blevens said.

     Blevens said last week that he is still getting adjusted to college life but, so far, is enjoying his classes and getting to meet new people.

     College poses new challenges, tests and tasks for him, but Blevens is fine with that.

     “I’m not afraid to meet them,” he said about challenges. “I’m not afraid to try.”

     “I’ve always been really self-motivated,” he said.

     He also doesn’t let his disability limit him. “I’ve never let this wheelchair define me.”

     Blevens said his hope is to graduate from college and become a social worker so he can help others.

     He is also quick to thank the people who have helped him along the way, including McCarty Center employees.

     “They just love me to death and I love them,” Blevens said. “I would not have gotten as far as I have without the J.D. McCarty Center.”


Dalton Blevens, 18, started coming to the center for services when he was 3 years old. He decided he wanted to attend the University of Oklahoma this fall and got help from center employees to make that transition.


Some of the employees who worked with Dalton to get prepared for OU were Alyse Lesher, back row, from left, John Every and Patrick Grose. Pictured on the front row are Ashli Velez, left, and Brittany Houck.

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