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Q and A with Liz Merrick, Wheelchair Team Leader

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A member of the wheelchair team making repairs on a resident's chair.

Liz Merrick and the Wheelchair team returned to Jamaica in April. After two years away, the residents were so excited to welcome them back. The team traveled all around the island, visiting every apostolate, to provide adjustments and new fitted wheelchairs for our residents. Get to know Liz and why she is so passionate about this work! 

How did you get started volunteering with Mustard Seed? 

I started volunteering with Mustard Seed through my church.  Following my first trip, I started leading high school trips, college trips, alumni trips and then the wheelchair trips.

How long have you been leading the Wheelchair team and what keeps you coming back year after year?  

On my first trip to Mustard Seed Communities, I noticed that the residents did not have wheelchairs, they were either in bed, propped up in car seats, or in a wheelchair that was inappropriate or poor quality. While in the chapel at Jerusalem! with Claude singing "Lord prepare me to be a Sanctuary,” I was overcome with emotion and experienced the light coming through the window and this was a spiritual moment of confirmation that I was exactly where the Holy Spirit wanted me to be. I knew at that moment that I was being called to dedicate the rest of my life’s work to doing whatever I could to improve these residents' lives. 

I started fundraising for custom wheelchairs for the residents 10 years ago and we shipped the first container. I led the first trip shortly thereafter.  I started planting the seed many years before as it was an education process for Mustard Seed Communities to understand the difference between a basic wheelchair and a custom wheelchair and that no single model or size of wheelchair can meet the needs of all the residents.

What is your favorite part of doing the work that you and your team do? 

Definitely the smiles are our reward, as well as seeing how the chairs improve the resident’s quality of life from increased levels of activity and socialization and for some residents, independence. And of course, all the health benefits!

MSC resident before and after receiving their new wheelchair  MSC resident before and after receiving their new wheelchair
Before and after moments of our residents thanks to the help of the Wheelchair Team! 

Can you tell us about a resident or a moment with a resident that stands out to you?

So many stand out but Claude, the Mayor of Jerusalem, is the first that comes to mind.  Claude had been in a reclined position most of his life.  This limited his vision and caused him to have shallow breathing and affected his voice, which became softer.  This was frustrating to Claude as he loved talking and singing.  Once he was positioned upright in his new wheelchair, he had a better visual field for eye contact with his friends and caregivers and greatly improved speech!  From being upright, his lung capacity improved his respiration to produce more speech volume.  Claude was now able to pull up to a sink for grooming with self assistance, as well as a table for self feeding and participate in activities such as his love for coloring and painting.  Then, two years ago, independence and mobility became even better for Claude when at 49 years old, he received a power chair and gained independent mobility for the first time in his life! To see the smile on his face in these moments will forever be engraved in my mind and heart.  

Liz Merrick with Claude during her trip in April to Jerusalem. 
Liz Merrick with Claude during her trip in April to Jerusalem. 

What is your advice to a new leader or volunteer that would like to get involved with Mustard Seed? 

I always tell new volunteers that it may be your first trip, but it won’t be your last! Like the parable of “The Mustard Seed” it is the smallest of all seeds but when it is planted in your heart it is so large and so powerful that it will transform you from the inside out.  It will produce fruits of love, joy, compassion, patience and kindness and you will move mountains to return year after year!   

To learn more about who the Wheelchair team is and the work that goes into their trip from the planning to the week on the ground, continue reading below! 

  1. It is a yearlong process starting with the evaluation and assessment to accurately assess the needs of each MSC resident in order to prescribe the most appropriate wheelchair available. These assessments are done by our professional team of OT’s, PT’s and ATP’s (all seating and mobility specialists).
  2. The evaluation details: the type and size of wheelchair; any additional components required (for example pressure-relief seat cushion); any modifications or custom components required; and any other information to help identify the most suitable wheelchair.
  3. Once we return home, all the residents’ evaluations are inputted and the process of matching the needs of the user with the most suitable available wheelchair begins. Our team procures wheelchairs from various sources, wheelchair manufacturer donations, wheelchair users that have outgrown their chairs, or organizations.  Once wheelchairs are sourced, I begin fundraising for the new wheelchair parts and then the parts are ordered.
  4. Our team of Seating and Mobility specialists volunteer their time to prepare the wheelchair for the initial fitting. This includes rebuilding the chair and modifications and custom postural support installation of custom seating systems or individual postural support components.  Each wheelchair is then labeled with the residents’ name and copy of the evaluation. Prior to loading on the container, the chairs are once again checked for quality and safety before the chair is wrapped for shipment.
  5. We ship the containers. Once they arrive in Jamaica and clear customs, they are transported to Jerusalem. The container is unloaded at Jerusalem, the wheelchairs are sorted by resident and their respective home and distributed to apostolates prior to team arrival.
  6. Our team arrives at MSC and we distribute the new wheelchairs. Fitting is a critical step. At the fitting, the resident and our professional team of seating and mobility specialists ensure that the wheelchair fits correctly and supports the resident as intended. A fitting may take between 30 minutes and 2 hours or more, depending on the complexity. During the fitting, the resident, our team and MSC caregivers together check that: the wheelchair is the correct size; the wheelchair is correctly adjusted for the user; any modifications or postural support components are fitting correctly; and the wheelchair meets the resident’s mobility and postural support needs.
  7. The resident and caregivers are trained on how to safely and effectively use and maintain the wheelchair as every resident and wheelchair is different.
  8. A Follow-up, maintenance and repair trip is scheduled within 6 months of the distribution to evaluate the effectiveness of the wheelchair in maximizing the resident’s functioning, comfort and stability, and to ensure that the equipment has been maintained appropriately and is in good condition.

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