Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Moriah Iverson of The W.H.E.E.L. Project

NOW: Natalie’s Everyday Heroes: Moriah Iverson of The W.H.E.E.L. Project

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A new project in Milwaukee is helping young men who’ve been injured by gun violence. It’s called The W.H.E.E.L. Project. Moriah Iverson is the project manager. She’s using a combination of art and conversation to help these men live active lives, in spite of their spinal cord injuries.

The group recently sat down to record their first ever podcast. Each young man shared details about his injury.

“I'm just learning as I'm going. I'm only 24,” said Otis Young.

They all agree they had a lot to learn after surviving life-changing injuries.

“I was sitting in front of a bar, and someone just decided to shoot at the bar,” explained Sidney Voss of the night he was shot. “And I was one of the people who got hit.”

Young said was shot during an attempted robbery several years ago, and he called it was a wake-up call.

“Me, being in this wheelchair, made me who I am today, made me a man,” he said.

Young said his injury made him a man, but these guys found a lot of road blocks to their recoveries.

Through W.H.E.E.L., both Young and Voss now work as community research assistants in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

“Young men of color who experience disability due to gun violence really face the most disparities,” said Moriah Iverson, program manager for community engagement and research at the Medical College of Wisconsin. She helped start this research project last February.

“W.H.E.E.L. stands for "we heal each and every life," she explained, noting that one of the men came up with the idea.

When it started, Iverson’s goal was to get the young men to increase their physical activity. She quickly realized there’s a need for so much more.

“There's just all kinds of barriers to employment, education, transportation,” she said.

Iverson is helping the men to create things, including art projects, and the podcast. Now, they’re also writing three grants to create more jobs and opportunities for research.

“I just want guys to realize, you know, life doesn't end here,” said Harvey Ross, of Independence First. He’s working with Iverson on the W.H.E.E.L. Project.

His message to gunshot survivors is, you’re not alone. Everyone out there needs help in their lives at one time or another.

“Life doesn't end there, and you shouldn't think it ends there,” Ross said. “You still have your brain and that's the most important thing of all. You can talk, conversate, think of ideas. Even though you may need assistance, who in this world doesn't need assistance?”

When Ross was shot nearly 20 years ago, he never considered the possibility of getting involved in a project like this.

“I never thought about this whole situation, period,” he said with a laugh. “And why would I?”

But he’s discovered an unlikely bond with Iverson. They’re from different backgrounds, but share a strong friendship and the same goals.

“Moriah is probably in my top five people of all time that I ever met in my entire life,” Ross said.

“It's like a small little family now. Hopefully the family expands and grows bigger, outside of just spinal cord injuries,” Ross said.

The program is creating a place where these men can not only survive, but thrive.

“I think a lot of it has given the guys a different light on their lives,” Ross said.

“It has been one of the most meaningful projects I've ever participated on,” Iverson said.

There are big things ahead for the project, too. In addition to the grants they’re applying for, they’re also participating in the “No Studios” Social Justice Summit on November 15th and 16th.

If you’d like to nominate someone for Natalie’s Everyday Heroes, just send Natalie an email at [email protected]. We want to hear about someone doing good work in your community.

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