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WHEATFIELD – Candace Butcher, known to her friends as “Candi,” has an easy smile and sense of humor. She was recently awarded the Health Association of Niagara County’s Karen Albond Courage in Caring Award for her 30-plus years of service to people with disabilities. The award is given annually to an individual who perseveres in service to others despite a disability. Butcher, 61, has cerebral palsy.

Butcher was nominated by the Residential Manager for Niagara Cerebral Palsy, Russ Polvino, who named Butcher for her work with families despite her own challenges. She has worked part-time as a respite care worker for caretakers of the disabled for the past 12 years.

Butcher is a graduate of LaSalle Senior High School in Niagara Falls and has a degree in social work from SUNY Buffalo State. Prior to her work in respite care, she worked full-time for 18 years for the United Cerebral Palsy Association. She had also been part of Volunteer in Service to America for three years, setting up a program for handicapped volunteers.

Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that involve the brain and nervous system. It is caused by brain damage that occurs while a child’s brain is still developing, usually before birth, during birth or immediately after birth. It affects body movement and muscle control. It can impact fine motor skills, gross motor skills and oral motor functioning.

Butcher said there are different types of cerebral palsy, but she is diagnosed as spastic and has trouble walking, writing and speaking. But she is able to live on her own and is still able to drive.

Do you have to explain cerebral palsy to people?

Yes. Some people think I am mentally retarded, because of the physical aspects. They think I don’t have a thinking brain.

When were you first diagnosed?

I was three years old. Unfortunately, it has gotten worse. Now I walk with a walker. Fatigue is a problem.

What were you like as a child?

I was a ball of fire. I could go shopping two or three days in a row. Now I get tired, but maybe that’s my age. I don’t realize I am 61 years old.

You were honored in your work as a respite care worker. What do you do?

I go into homes of disabled people and I stay with them while their caretakers take a break. They do not all have cerebral palsy. There’s a number of disabilities.

How do they react to you – since you face some of the same issues?

It varies, depending on the person, but I have one young man – he’s 24 years old – and he tells his mom to go out and stay late. So I can come. That’s very nice.

There are some that expect you would ask to be cared for, rather that working to take care of others.

I wish sometimes, like all of us, someone would come in and do the housework, but really I can do anything I need to on my own. I may need some help hanging a picture – only because I don’t want a hundred pin marks in my wall [she laughs].

I guess you need a sense of humor sometimes.

I get very frustrated, but the frustration has decreased through the years. I think I have gained more patience with myself. In the future I will probably need more help, but you don’t know the future.

Have you made your career about caring for other people with disabilities?

When I graduated from high school I remember telling my parents I wanted to work with other people with disabilities and fortunately I have done that all my life.

Why was that important to you?

I felt I understood their frustrations. And I wanted to help. I get as much from my job as I give. It’s just a right fit. I also worked to pay the bills.

Were you surprised about the award?

Yes. My boss, Russ Polvino, called me and said, “I nominated you for an award and you won.” But I was thrilled. I want to stay with respite care as long as I can work. It’s the best job.

Why?

There’s not a lot of pressure. You probably don’t see it, but when you are out in the world things move so fast and I can’t move that fast. This gives me a chance to relax, stay with people and talk. Whatever they need.

Do you give others with disabilities some hope?

I don’t know, but I think so.

Can you relate to those who have faced bullying because of their disabilities?

I can relate to the bullying. Kids used to make fun of me.

We need people to accept that there are people who are different than ourselves. We have to be a more accepting society.

How have you handled it?

I had a very positive upbringing. My parents always encouraged me to do my best. I have used what I learned.

Humor is one of my big things. You can get a lot done if you joke around.

Know a Niagara County resident who would make an interesting question-and-answer column? Write to: Niagara Weekend Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or email niagaranews@buffnews.com.