Friday, October 22, 2010

NJ man with spina bifida honored for expanding opportunities for other disabled students

From The Press of Atlantic City:

HAMILTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. -- The way Nathan Jackson (pictured) looks at it, he's a normal enough guy, but to those who honored him Oct. 21, Jackson is a trailblazer who has helped expand opportunities for disabled students at Richard Stockton College.

Jackson, 28, who was born with spina bifida and must use a wheelchair, was among six residents honored Thursday afternoon with a Donald J. Sykes Award. The honor is presented annually by Atlantic County to residents with disabilities who have made notable contributions to the community.

When he attended Stockton, Jackson worked in the computer lab, helping students get things done and tutoring others who needed extra attention. He continued to have an effect on and a connection with the school even after he graduated six years ago.

School was great, he said, because that was where he met most of his friends. He also worked with the school's Wellness Center, pointing out when places or events could not accommodate a person in a wheelchair.

In a letter, Fran H. Bottone, director of counseling and health services at Stockton's Wellness Center, and co-worker Carol R. Quinn wrote that Jackson exemplified the kind of person the award was meant to honor.

Born in Salt Lake City, Jackson graduated high school in Fort Worth, Texas, and moved with his family to the Smithville section of Galloway Township. He graduated from Atlantic-Cape Community College in 2002 and Stockton in 2004. Moving from a two-year to a four-year college is always difficult, a problem compounded by Jackson's limited mobility, the nomination letter read.

"Nate made the transition with ease and aplomb, characteristics we came to realize were part of Nate's approach to life," Bottone and Quinn wrote in a nominating letter. "Throughout his tenure at Stockton, Nate tackled the rigors of his academic pursuits with the same philosophy he approached all things: dedication, humor and the sense to know when to seek assistance."

Bottone said during Thursday's event that Jackson was a role model to other students: "He always had a smile on his face and made things easier for people around him."

Quinn said he helped point out when the school needed to address access issues, making things better for other students. She recounted when he took a trip off campus with a school group and the bus was not wheelchair-accessible. Other students picked up Jackson, wheelchair and all, and hoisted him aboard. They did the same thing to get him off. When he got back to school, Quinn said, Jackson calmly suggested the school should consider accessibility in future field trips.

They said he kept in contact through phone calls and e-mail in the years after he graduated.

And while he remained in contact with the people in the center for the six years since he graduated, Jackson said he was still stunned when the office of the Atlantic County executive told him in September that he was getting the Sykes award. People had told him that he had helped improve things for disabled students at Stockton, but he was still caught by surprise.

"I didn't realize I had made a positive impact on so many people," he said.

No longer in college, Jackson, who still lives in Smithville, is employed by Global Connect in Mays Landing. He works with computers at the company, which handles voice mail.

Atlantic County gave Jackson and five other people the Donald J. Sykes Award on Thursday in a ceremony at the Mays Landing Country Club.

The awards were given to people who were nominated by area organizations on the strength of personal and life accomplishments, as well as how they enriched the lives of others.

The award is named for a longtime community advocate and former chairman of the county's Disabled Citizens Advisory Board. Diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease called dermato-myositis, Sykes died in 1991 at 35. The county established the award in 1989.