Kindness of strangers gives gift of independence
FOR wheelchair user Carol Sternberg, the kindness of strangers within the Warwick community is more than a happy coincidence - it's a means of retaining her independence.
An active member of the Warwick community, Mrs Sternberg regularly goes shopping, to group meetings, and social outings independently while her husband Bob works from their Glengallan home.
Due to the nature of her condition, the one obstacle is getting out of her car and reaching the wheelchair in the boot - and that's where members of the Warwick community come in.
"In the beginning, I could walk to the boot, get the wheelchair out and put it back in, but then it got to the point where I couldn't even do the walking anymore," Mrs Sternberg said.
"So, what I do now is have a wheelchair at home and one in the car, and when I get into town, I just wait for anyone I think is young and strong enough and ask them to get it out of the boot for me.
"It's always strangers, but everybody is more than happy to help me - and it's always appreciated."
For more than three decades, the Glengallan resident has lived with hereditary spastic paraparesis, a rare and incurable neurological condition causing progressive weakness and stiffness in the leg muscles.
"I can still get up and stand, and I can walk with assistance, but it's so hard because everything's so tight," Mrs Sternberg said.
"I started having symptoms in my teens, and it's just a slow progressive thing. At 34 I used one walking stick, at 40 I went to two, and then in my fifties I went to the wheelchair.
"Not too many of us have it. There's one man in Stanthorpe who has it, and I met him through a Facebook page, and now we meet up once every few months for lunch."
A fiercely independent woman with three children and seven grandchildren, Mrs Sternberg has striven to be as self-sufficient as possible.
However, she said having to rely on the kindness of strangers within the Warwick community has never been a challenge or struggle - rather, it's proven a gift of both independence and connection.
"Unless they have somebody in their life in a wheelchair, I think people can forget or can't imagine having to ask strangers to do something like that for them every time," Mrs Sternberg said.
"It's always strangers, and we can sometimes chat for half an hour afterwards. More than anything, I'm amazed that in all these years I've never had the same person twice."
"I've always wanted to be able to tell people and say thank you to the Warwick community, just for the kindness of strangers and helping me keep my independence. I don't know what I'd do without it."