Rockford man eager to give back to Evanston agency
Rockford resident C.J. Campbell, who has cerebral palsy, plans to make a 75- mile walk to promote support for Over The Rainbow starting August 1. (Photograph courtesy of C. J. Campbell)
WHO: C.J. Campbell
RESIDENT OF: Rockford, Ill.
MISSION: To bring awareness to the plight of people with disabilities and give back to the Over the Rainbow Association in Evanston, “because without Over The Rainbow I’d be in a homeless shelter,” he says.
GOAL: With the aid of his
wheelchair and crutches, Campbell, 25, plans to walk next month from Rockford to Over
the Rainbow’s apartment complex at 2040 Brown Ave., in Evanston, approximately a 75-mile trip.
Updated: August 27, 2012 10:56AM
ROCKFORD, Ill. -- For Rockford resident C.J. Campbell, a catalyst came while he was watching congressional hearings on C-Span this spring and saw how funding for people with disabilities was being batted around like a ping-pong ball.
At the time, the 25-year-old Campbell was already living in his new apartment managed by Over The Rainbow Association — a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing independent-living solutions and employment opportunities for people with physical disabilities.
“Of all the people in my building I was probably physically the most well off,” he said during a phone interview. “And I was kind of shocked at what our government and what our society was allowing the most vulnerable members of our society to be used for, and that was a power play.”
“So I began to kick around not only the idea of what can I do to bring awareness to the plight of disabled individuals, but also what could I do to give back to Over the Rainbow, because without Over the Rainbow I’d be in a homeless shelter.”
The idea he came up with is kind of a doozy: With the aid of his wheelchair and crutches, Campbell plans to walk from Rockford to Over the Rainbow’s apartment complex at 2040 Brown Ave. in Evanston, about a 75-mile trip.
Accompanied by a friend, Campbell plans to leave Aug. 1. Walking along Route 20 most of the way, he hopes to reach Evanston by Aug. 10 or 11.
He’s hoping to cover seven miles a day, stopping every mile or so to consume one of the 100 protein bars the Clif Bar company has donated.
Campbell said his trip was inspired to some degree by Donald Miller’s book, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years,” in which the author describes his getting into shape for a climb up Machu Picchu in Peru.
The book resonated with Campbell, he said, with its message of “chasing after our dreams and also living a life that is centered on others rather than yourself.”
For Campbell, who has a mild form of cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder, day-to-day tasks are a struggle.
“It’s like my brain comprehends and understands English,” he explained, “while the rest of my body speaks Spanish.”
He estimates he’ll use three times the effort completing the seven-miles-a-day distance as someone able bodied. Based on that yardstick, “basically it means I’m going to do be doing a marathon for ten straight days.”
Engaging, he admitted he’s not very comfortable with the self-promotional aspect of the event, but sees an opportunity to help Over The Rainbow, an organization he describes as “trailblazing a new path in which to address issues for disabled Americans.”
Campbell said his trip really had its making in a disastrous turn of events for him in 2010 when a downturn in the economy resulted in him losing his jobs as a pastoral assistant and food pantry coordinator in upstate New York.
Returning to Rockford, he found temporary lodging on his mother’s couch, in a state “with the least amount of social programs in the country to help me.”
Looking for a place of his own, “I was told by social workers that becoming homeless might be the only option to get help in finding a place to live,” he said, “because the waiting list for the state might take two to five years to open up.”
It was at that point “where my hopes were at their lowest, and when it seemed that this violent storm of trials would never end, a rainbow broke through the clouds,” wrote Campbell on his blog, “The Running Search,” (http://cjcampbell.tumblr.com/), a perceptive and sometimes iconoclastic look at the world of disabilities and his personal trials.
His caseworker, affiliated with an advocacy group called Ramp, told him about Over the Rainbow Association and the new building they had constructed in Rockford a couple of years before.
“The idea of living in a barrier-free housing seemed like a dream come true,” he said.
“I had never had the opportunity of living in a place accessible to me. The notion that I wouldn’t be putting most of my mental capacity towards navigating around surroundings and trying to accomplish basic tasks for a living seemed like my own personal emancipation.”
On a larger scale, the need for housing is a theme of the walk.
“Basically, affordable access to housing is probably the most crucial need of any disabled person,” Campbell said.
He is inviting supporters to follow him through his blog, in which he plans to keep a running account of his trip.
Persons who want to donate toward the effort may do so directly to Over The Rainbow at otrassn.org/donate-now.