OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- In this Thanksgiving week, as we begin the annual season of giving, we're starting a series of profiles of teenagers and children who are giving to others in impressive and extraordinary ways. This week's FOX 4 Young Achiever is a future Eagle Scout who is helping adults with disabilities even though he has serious physical challenges himself.
Almost nothing comes easy for 17-year-old Brendan Perlinger. Regular physical therapy sessions are exhausting and leave him drained as he works to build muscle and flexibility to counter the effects of cerebral palsy that have left him profoundly physically challenged. But what does come easy for Brendan are the broad and ready smiles that always light up his face, the spirited sense of humor and good nature that make him an endlessly happy young man and the work ethic and perseverance to keep him going to make his life a success in spite of enormous obstacles.
"Brendan is a character," says Terry Petersen with a wonderful laugh. Petersen owns and operates Children's Physical Therapy Associates in Overland Park and has worked with Brendan on his physical therapy since he was a baby.
"(Brendan's) playful, he's fun, he's sweet," says Peterson. "He's always got a smile and wants to engages us with whatever we are doing. And he never gives up with whatever we ask him to do. I don't think typical children do that." Using a motorized wheelchair to get around and a speech generating device to do his talking, Brendan certainly is severely limited in what his body can do. But inside is a nimble mind that makes him an honors student at Shawnee Mission West High School in Overland Park where he got his second academic letter this fall.
"I want people to remember not to judge others by what they see," says Brendan with an assist from his speech generating device. "Although I am physically disabled, I can find other ways to get things done. I still have the same wants and needs as others." No barriers. No limits. That's the way Brendan has lived his life, encouraged and supported by his mom, Christine, and his dad, Dan, and his all mentors. And a mountain of donated goods that grew in the family's basement this fall is the latest evidence of that.
"My goal was to bring attention to a lesser-known need in my community as well as to fulfill my Eagle project requirement," says Brendan. Yes, Brendan soon will become an Eagle Scout. A big step in that process is leading and completing a project that benefits the community. With moving personal appeals at his church, Holy Trinity Catholic in Lenexa, Kan., Brendan touched the hearts of members of his parish congregation and inspired them to donate loads of household goods and personal items and $1,300 to buy even more of those items to provide to adults with cerebral palsy who are in supported living programs of the United Cerebral Palsy organization.
"Because United Cerebral Palsy has helped me in the past, I wanted to find a way that I could give back to them," says Brendan. "I am very happy with the support that my parish has given me with my Eagle project. I think because of my disability, people were more willing to donate." And a few days ago, Brendan and other members of his Boy Scout troop, including his two brothers and his dad who is an adult scout leader, brought Brendan's project full circle, delivering the donated items to the homes and apartments of adults with CP.
"He's provided basically the things that make a house feel like a home," says Debbie Niemann, spokesperson for United Cerebral Palsy's chapter in the Kansas City region. "It's unbelievable. He's touched lives incredibly. And our whole mission is just making sure that regardless of challenges that people are involved in their community that really gives meaning to life, more than just an existence but truly a part of the community and Brendan is showing exactly how that can be."
"I feel satisfied that I could help," says Brendan. "Everyone needs a little help now and then." And Brendan is proving that regardless of the hand life has dealt you, everyone can give a little help now and then, too.
Brendan is on track to complete his Eagle Scout work next month and receive the medal in January.
FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Monday on Fox 4 News at 8 a.m., every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on Fox 4 News at 5 p.m.