Twelve years ago, Henry Boyce, now 66, developed Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and became a person with disabilities after a lifetime of being "normal." In a short time the illness set in, taking away his ability to walk without assistance and even speak clearly. Nowadays, to communicate with others he works hard at it.
Even so, Boyce says he is good to go and ready to give something back to his community.
In 2009, Boyce enrolled at Harold Washington College, after first becoming computer literate at a nearby social service agency. He is in the last phase of earning a degree in addiction studies and needs to land an internship. But what he's really looking for now is a break.
"My objective is to become an addiction counselor," Boyce said, handing us his resume and cover letter. "It's not something I am not familiar with because I have been around that kind of stuff all my life, and I feel like I maybe can help in that area because I found out a lot of things when I became disabled.
"I saw biases that I didn't experience when everybody thought I was normal. Now I wasn't normal anymore because of the way I walk and talk. And because of the way I am now, it was assumed I am not normal because I now show traits of someone who is [developmentally disabled]. But I have been given the mind to do something different."
He credits his continuing quality of life to being at Farrelly/Muriello Apartments (formerly Ryan Farrelly Apartments). It is one of three affordable housing options owned and managed by Oak Park Residence Corporation, says Edward Solan, OPRC's executive director.
This facility, he says, was the vision of Frank Muriello, whose name was recently added (the late Ryan Farrelly was his grandson). The home serves individuals such as Boyce, who are mobility impaired but able to maintain their own personal and financial matters.
"Henry here is a model citizen," says James King, OPRC's director of Senior and Disabled Housing, "and he gets around pretty well whereas other people don't get around very well, and about three or four others are capable of working and do. Everyone pays 30 percent of their income for rent, minus medical deductions and allowances they get, so living here is affordable for them."
A model of accessible living
But life for him hasn't always been so palatable, Boyce says. Before this, he rented a small apartment in a walk-up building at Austin and Roosevelt Road, on the Chicago side. He could barely climb the stairs to his apartment or navigate the kitchen or bathroom which had a tub/shower combo he couldn't climb into with his incapacitated legs.
It was his sister, an Oak Park resident, who steered him toward applying to live in his new, fully accessible digs.
"Now I take a shower every day, I think, because I can walk right into it, and that is definitely a good feeling and a good thing," he says, laughing. "Everything here for me now is convenient, and I am grateful for that."
Meanwhile, seated near his PC, the tool that made going back to school possible for him, Boyce lays out his plan.
"I got a stumbling block in my way to becoming an addiction counselor because I have to get on the phone and talk to people to make appointments," says Boyce. "I will be a person who would be there every day, would never have any excuses. I'm hoping someone will help me and give me an internship so I can start helping others."