Setting a Fine Example

A tireless volunteer and advocate, Tennessee's Jan Blaustone wins MDA National Personal Achievement Award

by Quest Staff on October 1, 2000 - 4:44pm

To Jan Blaustone, leadership means setting a positive example.

Jan Blaustone

Blaustone, 45, strives to be a model for others, whether she's writing, speaking, teaching, creating artwork or making a difference in her community.

Blaustone's efforts have been acknowledged with MDA's National Personal Achievement Award for 2001. The award, which recognizes the accomplishments and community service of individuals affected by neuromuscular diseases, was announced on the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon broadcast last month by co-host Jann Carl.

Blaustone, who lives in Nashville with her husband, Michael, her 10-year-old son, Lee, and two dogs, was chosen for the national honor from among statewide MDA Personal Achievement Award recipients across the country.

A previously athletic woman, Blaustone became affected by muscular dystrophy in her early 30s and soon developed into an advocate for people with disabilities. She works to teach others that people with neuromuscular diseases have many strengths and much to contribute to society.

"Jan is an inspirational woman whose energy and attitude set an example for all of us," MDA National Chairman Jerry Lewis said in announcing her selection for the national award. "Her achievements show that neuromuscular diseases are no match for dreams and determination."

Slowed, but just barely

Blaustone received a diagnosis of limb-girdle muscular dystrophy in 1987. The slowly progressing disease causes weakness and wasting initially in shoulder and pelvic girdle muscles.

Blaustone uses a motorized scooter and occasionally a manual wheelchair to assist with her mobility. Soon, she'll also receive a service dog to help her with stability and daily tasks, something she's "jazzed" about after being on a waiting list for several years.

"While MDA picks me up in so many ways through its programs and services and the friends that I've made over the years, the dog, on the other hand, will literally pick me up when I fall down," she said.

Blaustone's career has generally focused on family life and disability issues. Her varied job background includes work in advertising and public relations, fire fighting and work as an assistant to best-selling author H. Jackson Brown Jr., who wrote Life's Little Instruction Book.

Blaustone herself is the author of two books. The Joy of Parenthood was published in 1993 by Meadow-brook/Simon & Schuster. The pocket-size book, written in the spirit of Brown's bestseller, is a collection of inspirational and encouraging thoughts for parents. Blaustone said the book was inspired by her experience raising her adopted son.

Her second book, Every Family Is Special: Love Comes First, was published in 1994 by Deaconess Press. Blaustone's other writing projects include freelance articles for magazines and local newspapers, and regular contributions to her region's MDA newsletter and other MDA publications, including Quest.

Teaching and sharing to make a difference

When she isn't making voluntary school and classroom visits to help educate youngsters about people with disabilities, Blaustone fills in as a substitute teacher in elementary and middle schools in Metro-Davidson County.

"What better way to reach young people" than teaching, Blaustone said. "There's a lot of ways to bring about awareness. I do a lot of writing, and I do speaking, but what I enjoy most is being in the classroom with children, and just being out and about on a regular basis with my son."

Blaustone usually teaches music, art and library services, but is frequently called on for physical education. It's especially eye-opening for students to interact with a teacher who uses a wheelchair in gym class, she said.

"P.E. is wonderful because they don't have a lot of people in the gym that are in wheelchairs," she said. "There's a lot of space in the gym. I don't have to worry about running over toes as much."

Always determined to find a way to help others, Blaustone regularly donates blood and platelets (an element of the blood that promotes clotting) and has given four gallons of platelets over the years. She also recently became recertified by the Red Cross in CPR and first aid, something she encourages other people with disabilities to do.

"I got recertified not only because I think it's the right thing to do, but also because a lot of people with neuromuscular diseases might hesitate. They might think it's not something they can do, and it certainly is," Blaustone said. "Even if you were in such a state that you couldn't get out of your wheelchair, you could instruct somebody in an emergency. I think everybody should have that information."

A stellar volunteer from the volunteer state

Blaustone's community involvement has included several years of volunteering as a consultant on special needs adoptions for Family and Children's Service of Middle Tennessee. In 1994 she was honored by the Nashville mayor's office for her efforts to promote a positive image of people with disabilities.

Blaustone is a voluntary MDA leader at the local and national levels. She serves on MDA's National Task Force on Public Awareness and is a member of the steering committee. She volunteers annually for the Telethon and was profiled on the 1996 and 2000 national broadcasts. Blaustone speaks on behalf of MDA at seminars and fund-raising events, and helps motivate others in MDA-sponsored support groups.

A skilled artist and photographer, she's contributed three paintings to the MDA Art Collection, and coordinated a traveling exhibit of the Collection at the JFK Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

Additionally, three photographs she took while volunteering at an MDA summer camp were recently featured in an exhibit at the Independent Arts Gallery in New York City. The photos were part of the 14th annual juried exhibition, Spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act: Celebrating Disability Culture in the New Millennium, in July and August.

Blaustone said her volunteer efforts and goodwill are all part of her simple goal to be a leader by example.

"I try to educate and bring about awareness of the strengths of people with neuromuscular diseases, not by what I say as much as what I do," Blaustone said.

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