APPLETON — Life can certainly have its challenges, but Ginger Beuk of Oshkosh doesn’t let things get her down. Born with cerebral palsy, Beuk was adopted at the age of six weeks. She was raised in a Catholic home and attended public schools through high school but had 12 years of religious education.
Beuk works part time doing book work for a power sweeping business and she’s an active volunteer in her community. “I was volunteering at Mercy Medical Center but I discontinued that because I’m more involved with advocating for the disabled,” said Beuk, who is secretary for the state board for People First Wisconsin.
People First Wisconsin is a statewide self-advocacy organization for people with disabilities. By joining together in groups, individuals with disabilities learn to speak up for themselves, share ideas, friendships and information. The group’s mission is to provide opportunities for people with disabilities in Wisconsin to speak up and be heard about healthcare, voting, employment, housing and transportation issues.
As a board member, she travels to Madison once each quarter to work with people in the government on various pieces of legislation. One of the initiatives they were involved with was Spread the Word to End the Word, where people around the world worked to raise awareness of the dehumanizing and hurtful effects of the words “retard” and “retarded,” encouraging others to think before they speak.
“Our main focus this year is the big Medicaid overhaul that seems to be hitting a lot of roadblocks, which is good for us because that means our legislators in Washington are getting the message that they can’t just cut it because a lot of us, that’s how we live and hire our help,” said Beuk.
There are also local chapters of People First. Beuk is the co-advisor of People First Oshkosh, which meets once a month. A committee was formed six years ago to start the planning process for an inclusive playground in Oshkosh. That park, Oshkosh Inclusive Playground at South Park, is now up and running thanks to all of their hard work.
Through that venture, Beuk met Gail Hawley, a teacher at St. Mary High School in Neenah. The two found out they had a lot of common interests. “Once Gail and I got to know each other, she’s like, ‘How about coming up to St. Mary’s for Mass, at least we’ll see each other one hour a week.’”
Late this spring, Beuk joined that parish. She noted she would be happy to volunteer there if any opportunities arise. Like other parishioners with varying abilities, she’s just waiting to be asked.
“I got to know Ginger serving on the board of the Oshkosh Inclusive Park Project. We became fast friends and have been traveling together around Wisconsin ever since,” noted Hawley. “Ginger is a strong advocate for people with disabilities and often travels to Madison to speak with legislators about current issues that affect people with disabilities. She is on the Wisconsin board for people with Developmental disabilities, she is Secretary of State with People First, and she participated in Partners in Policy Leadership Training.”
According to Hawley, Ginger is an inspiration to everyone who knows her. “She lives life to the fullest and never lets her disability get in the way of having a positive and adaptable attitude,” said Hawley. “It’s always a magical adventure spending time with Ginger. She has a way of attracting surprising miracles in her life. I don’t think of Ginger as having a disability as much as having lots of abilities that are needed in this world.”
Everyone has heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” That especially applies to people who are differently abled, said Beuk. “Don’t look at the person and their disability, get to know them and their natural talents will become apparent.”