Editor’s Note: Since Ralph’s Riders launched over a decade ago, the foundation has been supporting the spinal cord injury and mobility-impaired community through various programs and resources. Marcy Lovett, a T5-6 paraplegic, serves as the foundation's treasurer and is also a model, actress, accountant, and advocate for the disability community. Catie Butler, the secretary for Ralph's Riders, became passionate about serving others after spending time abroad as a teenager. In this interview, both women share how they became advocates, what they love about Ralph’s Riders, and how they see the future of the foundation.
Marcy: I’m the treasurer, so I take care of the books and help with the fundraisers. I also try to assist in any other area I can. I'm a jack of all trades, and I'm willing to pitch in when needed.
I get involved with organizations that I believe in, and that's my way of giving back to my community.
Catie: I'm the secretary, so I take minutes and make sure we follow the agenda during our meetings. I also record voting results when we have a quorum. I work with Marcy to document where we’re spending our money and how we're helping people. On top of that, I try to get out to our events, as well as our supporting partner events, to get the word out about what we do at Ralph’s Riders. I also volunteer at Abilities Expo Los Angeles.
Marcy: I think I've always been that way. Even prior to my injury, I wanted to be a voice for the underdog. However, what undoubtedly defined my course of action was getting injured. I started noticing people staring when I was out in public. At stores, cashiers would take my money and hand the change to the person I was with instead of giving it back to me. I was treated like I had the plague and that what I had would jump off on them. After a few years, I realized not everyone in a wheelchair has the tools to be able to speak up for themselves.
I wanted to be a voice for people I felt were being done wrong and give back to a cause I believed in.
Catie: I lived in Hong Kong during my early teenage years. That’s the period when you want more freedom than you should have, but you can't drive yet. Hong Kong is a small, safe island with public transportation. Instead of needing a ride, I could go out on my own, which gave me great freedom. I had lived in Southern California until then, and although it's a diverse and interesting area, it's still its own little bubble. Moving somewhere completely different and having classmates from all over the world was an amazing experience. At one point, we went on a field trip into some very rural parts of China to volunteer. Something that still stands out to me is how the people in these villages reacted to us. Another kid in the program and I were both blond, and they would take pictures of us and want to touch our hair. It was completely mind-blowing to them. We were so unique-looking because they'd never seen blond hair before.
It made me realize how diverse the world is.
Your mind doesn't usually expand that much in seventh grade. Going into those rural areas also exposed me to the disparity of wealth. I met people who couldn’t even afford to go to school, yet they were enjoying life and had values centered around family and relationships. Things were so different there that it truly helped open my eyes to other people's experiences.
Marcy: Grants. I like to see the foundation giving to people in need. Also, what keeps me humble is going to Abilities Expo Los Angeles every year. I enjoy working the table there, talking to others, and being an inspiration for people who are new to the community.
If I can put a smile on someone's face and make them feel special for the day, I've accomplished what I set out to do.
That is one event I've gone to every year since my injury because it's what brought me out of my shell. You feel more comfortable when you are around people who are like you.
Catie: I think our social events are one of the greatest things we do, and they’re also unique. Helping people out financially is huge and can make a giant impact on someone’s life, but giving people a sense of community and a reason to get out of the house is priceless.
The value of friendship and human connection can't be underestimated.
With the internet and phones, it feels like we’re connected to people, but seeing someone face-to-face and talking and laughing with them is such a tremendous value to everyone.
Marcy: I see us expanding. We’ve started working on building an alliance with other nonprofits over the last year, and it’s gaining a lot of momentum. Coming together with these groups is going to make Ralph’s Riders stronger.
Editor’s Note: The alliance currently comprises of fifteen organizations and includes nonprofits and rehabilitation centers local to Southern California as well as online publications with national and global reach.
Catie: I'd like to see even more social events and to continue holding Law and Resource Days regularly. Receiving legal advice from someone you can trust is invaluable, and our founder, Mayra Fornos, is such a wealth of knowledge. She is so smart and entrenched in the issues.
Getting quality information to people is extremely important.
We have a few new faces on the team who are bringing some great ideas, so I'm excited to see Mayra shift from planning events to providing a service that she's excellent at and that is truly needed.
Catie: Yeah! Just like living in Hong Kong, it has opened my eyes to another world I had no idea existed.
It's given me the passion to be involved, the desire to help people, and much more understanding.
My company does a lot of work with transit and transportation agencies, and one subject that comes up a lot is paratransit. I am by no means an authority, but I often speak up and share things I've seen with Ralph's Riders. For example, I saw a video of a gentleman in a wheelchair trying to get in and out of a hotel, and he had to keep waiting because the elevator was too full. So now, when we talk to some clients about accessible transportation issues, I have a whole new perspective. It gives me an understanding of what people go through.
Personally, it's also valuable to consider what other people are going through. When I want to complain because there's sidewalk construction at 8 a.m. on a Sunday, I know they're doing it so people can use it easily. Recognizing what something is for and how it will help someone makes it worthwhile. Now, I don't get mad when the jackhammer wakes me up in the morning!
Marcy: My advice for a newly injured person, and what brought me out of my shell, is to get involved with volunteering. It will increase your self-esteem by doing good for others.
You'll gain a sense of accomplishment by giving back.
Ralph’s Riders is a great organization to get your feet wet. If you want to be on the board or become a Rider (which is what we call our peer mentors), there's always a place for you.
Editor’s Note: Ralph’s Riders Foundation is looking for Riders (peer mentors), career coaches, and volunteers who want to support its mission. You can sign up to get involved at RalphsRiders.org/volunteer.
To learn more about Ralph Fornos, the inspiration behind the foundation, read Love Really Does Conquer All: How Ralph and Mayra Fornos Turned Tragedy into Triumph.
Information for this article was obtained through interviews with Marcy Lovett and Catie Butler as well as the Ralph’s Riders website and social media. The interviews have been lightly edited.
About the Author
Betsy Bailey has a diverse background that includes experience in marketing research, business operations, travel and culinary writing, and playing volleyball professionally overseas.
Betsy has been writing for Wheel:Life since January of 2017 and thoroughly enjoys the process of getting to know her interviewees. She also teaches students learning English as a second language, speaks French fluently, and travels any chance she gets!