Thursday, March 23, 2023

MAUREEN BURNS: What I can do

If you look up the word inspiration in the dictionary, it will likely have a picture of Mary K. Hoodhood. Some of you will remember her coming to speak for One Book One County years ago.  

Mary K. is a survivor in the biggest sense of the word. In 1980 she and her fiancé were in a horrific car crash. Mary K.’s life changed from that second on. She lost the ability to move everything except her head and has lived as a quadriplegic for the last 43 years.

Jeff Hoodhood, her husband, said, “If you wonder what it’s like, sit down in a chair. Duct tape yourself down. Don’t move your hands or legs and then ask someone for EVERY SINGLE thing you need for the rest of your life.”

Mary K. adds, “I had been grouchy most mornings before my accident. Now I’m so damn glad to be alive, I’m happy, and try to always be positive.”

Mary K. Hoodhood’s new memoir “What I Can Do” tells her amazing and compelling story. — Submitted photos

The doctors worried she didn’t understand her predicament. They kept telling her things she would never be able to do.  

She said, “I am so independent. I decided my disability was NOT going to define me. I am more than that. I am a can-do person.”

Thus, her new book, a memoir, “What I Can Do” tells her amazing and compelling story. I highly recommend it! You can get it at her website, Proceeds go to support Kids’ Food Basket. (You can get it on Amazon but why give them the money.)  

I met Mary K. when I went to Jeff for some auto audio work. As we chatted, he said, “You should come in and meet my wife, Mary K.” I did and a friendship was born. I felt like I knew her a bit as her brother was a good friend of my husband’s at Aquinas and I’d met him and his wife.  

One day, Mary K. and I went to lunch in Grand Rapids. Her caretaker, a handsome GVSU student, took great care of her. Without words spoken, he began to feed her when the food came. I remember I said, “Aren’t you giving her awfully big bites?” He quickly replied, “She’s got a big mouth!” They fell into shared laughter over this.  

I was also touched that when lunch was over, he reached into her purse, took out lipstick and gently applied it for her. Once again, no words were spoken between them.

Mary K. is bubbly, beautiful and full of life. She’s also very smart and has a degree in education from Michigan State University. She had worked in Lansing as a lobbyist and coordinated a ballot referendum for the entire state of Michigan.  

After the accident, she lost a lot of her confidence. She thought the master’s would help that. At graduation, when she crossed the stage in her wheelchair, she was given a standing ovation.

In 2001 Mary K. became aware that many kids in Grand Rapids were not being fed. A 5-year-old was found going through a dumpster outside his school, looking for food. She couldn’t find help. So she decided she would do it! 

She and school principals from schools on the northwest side of Grand Rapids came up with a list of 125 kids they thought were not receiving an evening meal at home. Mary K. went to God’s Kitchen, a part of Catholic Human Services. They had no money to do a new program. Unfazed, Mary K. went on to raise money to launch Kids Food Basket on her own.  

Mary K. Hoodhood’s new memoir “What I Can Do” tells her amazing and compelling story. — Submitted photos

In 2001, a few volunteers filled sack suppers for kids. This was the beginning. Today hundreds of volunteers fill healthy sack suppers for 10,000 kids across four counties.

Mary K. has received more awards than I could write about. She was awarded the highest civilian award in the United States — the Presidential Citizen’s Medal, awarded to her by President Barack Obama.  

Mary K. says her life since her accident hasn’t all been easy sailing. I had to really work on patience. Several times she was hanging on to life by a thread. Doctors would shake their head. “My saving grace has been that my family is so supportive and I have a strong faith.”  

Mary K. has no use of her hands. Her mouth, voice, and eyes communicate for her. Modern technology has added greatly to her ability to do things. Her positive, friendly, kind and fun manner add the finishing touches to all she does. She makes those around her feel happy and grateful. She encourages others. She lights up the room and the world. Yes, there is much she CAN DO! And she never fails to do it!  

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