“I know how it is to be shut in. I just want to help other people as I’ve been helped.” — Paul Acitelli

MOUNT VERNON — Paul Acitelli has cerebral palsy. He also has a servant’s heart.

Because of his desire to help others, 34 disabled individuals will receive a free season pass to Hiawatha Water Park this summer.

Armed with the proper solicitor’s permit, Acitelli collected donations from the end of April through the end of May. Recognizing that people would have difficulty understanding him, he wrote an explanation of what he was doing on a piece of paper and carried it on his wheelchair.

When he finished, he had collected $2,181.37.

Allyn Frye, Acitelli’s direct support person at Gantt Homes, explained why Acitelli set out to collect money for the season passes.

“He thinks the disabled should be able to have a life — to get out with everybody else,” she said.

Speaking through Frye, the 71-year-old Acitelli said, “I know how it is to be shut in. I just want to help other people as I’ve been helped.”

Acitelli’s original goal was to collect $1,000.

“When he got to that point, it wasn’t enough, so he kept going,” said another caregiver.

When asked how he felt knowing that 34 individuals would be able to enjoy the pool this summer, Acitelli was pleased.

“I like that,” he said, adding that he knows how it is to have access to the outside world. “The disabled should have a life like everybody else.”

Born with cerebral palsy, Acitelli said doctors told him he would never walk. He acknowledged that doctors did not know a lot about it at the time.

Health care providers know a lot more about the condition now, and so does Acitelli — and he wants to share that knowledge.

“I just want to educate people about being disabled,” he said. “A lot of people don’t understand what it’s like. That is part of why I do this.”

What does he want people to know about those with disabilities?

“That they are people just like everybody else. They have problems, but they have the right to be like everybody else and have a life,” he responded. “A lot of disabled can’t get out by themselves. I try to talk for them.”

Acitelli has suffered many indignities as a result of being disabled. Frye said he has been banned from eating out by himself because people don’t understand what it takes for him to eat alone. He does eat out with a caregiver to help.

“I can tell them a lot about how people are treated in group homes. It’s not right,” Acitelli said, adding that a big problem is how nursing homes handle people.

At Acitelli’s request, Frye related a story from his stay in a local nursing home.

Incontinence is a common side effect of cerebral palsy; Acitelli wears Depends as a precaution but prefers to use the bathroom.

When he pushed the button for an aide to help, the aide refused and told him to use the Depends. Acitelli then heard staff members laughing about it in the hallway. However, it was Acitelli who got in trouble for raising a fuss.

“Their job is to help people. They asked for the job, but the people don’t ask to be disabled,” Acitelli said. “It’s not right. [The disabled] can’t tell you themselves, so I will.”

Acitelli moved to Mount Vernon from Youngstown about 20 years ago because he wanted a change. He said it was a good decision.

City officials think so, too.

“This is a gentleman who is entirely committed to the community and advocating for them,” Mayor Matt Starr said. “Paul is a guy who is committed to helping by volunteering and giving back to the community, just like everybody else.”

What Acitelli has done is amazing and it fits in with bringing more awareness, Council member Amber Keener said. Keener, who chairs the city’s Parks and Recreation Committee, invited former Ms. Wheelchair Ohio Laura Sykes to visit the city in 2021.

Things that she recommended make the lives of the disabled in this town easier,” Keener said.

In April, Keener led a county-wide effort to implement ADA forms for first responders. The form allows residents to provide details about special needs or considerations that responders should know.

“I think this helps the rest of the community know how to help,” Keener said. “I think we need to listen to the experts in the field, which are people like Paul.”

Starr noted that a member of the city’s recreation board, J.J. House, has said he would like to get to Walmart in his wheelchair. However, there needs to be more sidewalks or paths.

“That is guiding our new development,” he said. “Sidewalks and paths are a must. That’s part of our strategic infrastructure. It’s definitely a priority.”

Another idea the city would like to implement is installing adult changing stations in new park restroom facilities.

Collecting donations for the pool passes isn’t the first time Acitelli has helped his adopted community. In 2021, he collected $1,000 for Food for the Hungry.

And he’s not done. He is already brainstorming his next project.

He wants to do other things if he has the permit for it, Frye said.

“Just yesterday he was saying he wants to do other fundraising things,” Frye said.

“A lot of disabled people don’t have a lot of money. I am very fortunate to have what I have. I want to help other people and the disabled have a life similar to mine,” Acitelli said.

This man has again served his community, Starr said.

“What a wonderful gentleman this guy is,” Starr said. “We are so fortunate to have him in our community.

“He has a servant’s heart.”

The Life & Culture section is brought to you by Knox Community Hospital.

A Christian ultrarunner who likes coffee and quilting

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *