Man with MS finds fulfillment helping others

Douglas E. Nix wasn't looking for an award when he set up a program to connect people with disabilities to equipment like wheelchairs and hospital beds.

But on Saturday, he's getting one anyway.

At the annual banquet and silent auction of PACE Inc. Center for Independent Living, based in Urbana, Nix will receive a community recognition award for seven years of fielding phone calls from hundreds of people needing to find adaptive equipment fast and, ideally, free or cheap. The program is called MAP for a "Multiple Assistance Program."

"He can tell you what's in every (loan) closet from here to Chicago," said Georgianna Frye, a visual impairment services coordinator at PACE. "If someone needs a wheelchair, he knows where the nearest one is."

Once, Nix said, a father called needing a hospital bed for his son, who wasn't allowed to come home from the hospital without that particular place to rest. Nix called an organization in Bloomington, they had beds, and the son was connected.

The father asked how much it would cost.

All it costs is the gas to go to Bloomington to pick it up, Nix replied.

MAP began after Nix moved to Champaign from San Diego in 1999. Prior to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, Nix worked in tech support and customer service for an equipment company. After his MS developed, Nix found that the resources he needed were often dispersed at organizations without ties to one another.

"There was a real disconnect between organizations talking to each other," he said. "I became a connecting resource.

"I affectionately named myself the 'loan closet bandit.'"

So Nix, who is also legally blind, went about finding which organizations for people with disabilities had closets of equipment available for loan or donation. Then he asked them if they would be on his partner list (that list is now three pages long).

"I may not know without Doug's assistance ... that the MS Society has a loan closet," said J Hadley Ravencroft, a PACE personal assistant and coordinator. "He started to connect everybody together."

After getting his first partner, Nix started his business. MAP charges no fees, makes no money and has no employees besides Nix.

"From a business standpoint, it's a horrible job," he said. "I am the president, flunky and paperboy."

But he wouldn't have it any other way.

"It gives me an opportunity to fill needs, to feel useful," he said. "It's going to keep going as long as there's a need – and there seems to be a need."

PACE, which stands for Persons Assuming Control of their Environment, sends Nix more than half of his clients, he said.

A not-for-profit organization, PACE works with people who have many kinds of disabilities to help them to live and function in society independently. Their area of coverage includes Champaign, Douglas, Edgar, Piatt and Vermilion counties.

"We're not here to do things for people," Ravencroft said. "We're here to teach people to do those things for themselves."

For his part, Nix said getting the award feels like he just won an Emmy.

Frye and Ravencroft believe it couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

"He's a very positive, giving and loving man who most definitely puts others before him," Ravencroft said. "He pretty much does not let any of his disabilities prevent him from participating in society."

Frye seconds that.

"He's an inspiration to many people," she said. "He inspires me. That's why I nominated him for the award."

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