The Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon cutting Wednesday, Nov. 11, to introduce the new facility for Children Assistive Technology Service (CATS), which is located at 12801 Moneta Road, Unit A, in Moneta.
The nonprofit organization is geared toward helping accommodate children with physical disabilities with equipment to help them walk, bathe, communicate and more. Ryann Kress, who won 2020-21 Ms. Wheelchair Virginia, also was in attendance for the ribbon cutting.
Previously located in the Westlake area in a tiny workshop, CATS originally had five storage units scattered across the Roanoke Valley area, but now they can store their entire inventory in their new facility.
Since its formation in 2014, CATS has grown and expanded into three different areas across the state of Virginia – Hampton Roads, Richmond and now Marion. Emory & Henry School of Health Sciences has partnered with CATS to help run the new facility as part of its new curriculum for the master’s occupational therapy program.
Founder and President of CATS Cathie Cummins, who has been a pediatric physical therapist for 40 years, said one of the main reasons why CATS has done so well is because they are the only nonprofit organization to offer what they do in Virginia.
“We’ve grown really fast because we are unique,” she said.
According to a CATS chart, in its opening year in 2014, CATS served less than 100 kids and pieces of equipment. They saw a slight increase in 2015, which was promising, but it wasn’t until 2016 when the organization exploded in both categories. Both the number of children and pieces of equipment were just shy of 500 for that year. 2017 was the year they saw both eclipse the 500 mark, and 2018 is when both surpassed 600.
They continued to grow in 2019, with just under 1,000 kids being served and more than 1,000 pieces of equipment being donated. This large increase has allowed CATS to grow and expand across the state.
The inventory is where CATS stands out, and it’s packed with hand-me-down equipment that were used by other disabled children who have outgrown them. The equipment is donated to the organization, where they are then cleaned, sanitized and renovated to make it look close to brand new as possible. Some of the items in the inventory include wheelchairs, bathing and toileting seats, adaptive seating, communication devices and switches, and more. Although the inventory helps CATS stand out, what makes it unique is that every piece of equipment is given away for free.
“Our health care system does not serve kids well,” Cummins said.
CATS, in a way, is a saving grace for families with physically disabled children. The equipment that families receive for their children help the kids play with their friends, be more independent, and experience life in a way they haven’t been able to. It also helps families that can’t afford the insurance cost.
Manager Jonathan Naples said the experience of seeing and helping a family’s life change because of their donations is something he will never get tired of.
“It’s like hitting a home run. You can do it 100 times and never get tired of it,” he said. “It’s a relief to see.”
If anyone is interested in donating a piece of equipment to CATS, they can contact them through social media or by phone and set up a time to have it picked up or delivered.
The success that CATS has seen in its six years has been considerable, and Cummins hopes other states across the country will soon follow.
“We hope to be a model for other states and have this continue to grow,” she said.
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