Seeing Alli: Delta Gamma Membership Made the Difference.
At two-years-old, Alli Falleur was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, a medical condition that affects control of her muscles. She was the 1996 Easter Seal representative for the nation. The cute little girl was confined to a wheelchair, but her love for life and spunk were not restrained. Alli was determined to live life fully even when society put up barriers.
In high school, Alli was fully mainstreamed, but an attendant helped her take notes in class. It was awkward for Alli to make friends with an older attendant at her side all day. "My only two friends were also disabled," she said. "I felt very isolated."
Graduating with a 3.94 GPA, Alli looked toward college. Her sister was going to a large state university, but Alli decided to go to a smaller school where she could get more personalized attention. Willamette University in Salem, Oregon was a perfect choice. It had an excellent academic reputation and was an hour from home. She did not have a full-time attendant in college to assist her during the day; it was up to her to get to class and take notes. In the highly competitive college environment, Alli could have opted to take a less stressful path. But she didn't and is quick to credit Willamette staff for their part in her successful completion of college.
"My professors were absolutely wonderful - all of them - as were the maintenance and facility people," she said. "When I needed assistance or asked for help, they were there."
Alli also decided that one of her goals for college was to break out and make friends. It was her biggest challenge, as it is for most disabled young people.
She was assigned to live in one of the oldest building on campus, but the hall's basement was wheelchair accessible and had a few student rooms. Fortuitously, Alli's freshman roommate was a social butterfly. "She brought that life to me," Alli said. "We always had visitors, and I loved it."
Alli also made efforts to seek out the other students housed in the basement rooms. One was Tracy McWhinney, a Delta Gamma who had what Alli describes as a "fireball personality." Tracy convinced Alli that joining a sorority would be a good way to have a real social life in college. Tracy invited Alli to freshman open house (Willamette has deferred recruitment) to see what sorority houses were like. Alli liked what she saw: she wanted to join Beta Pi chapter and the members wanted Alli.
"I had a new social paradigm," said Alli. "It was one of complete acceptance for who I was. There were no barriers because of my wheelchair. For the first time in my life, there was someone outside my family who saw me as a person who was valued for what I could contribute."
"The girls didn't see Alli's wheelchair," said Pam Armpriest Anunsen, Beta Pi house corporation president. "They saw Alli."
Anunsen, Beta Upsilon-Oregon State, and the rest of the board immediately began efforts and committed funds to ensure that Alli could move into the house in fall 2001. The front and back door were equipped with an ADA-approved (Americans with Disabilities) door opener and ramps.
The large president's room, one of six rooms on the main floor, was remodeled to accommodate Alli and future disabled members. They removed the day bed and a built-in dresser and desk. The university furnished an ADA-approved bed and adjustable desk. The house corporation bought new carpeting and painted the room. The total cost was $400.
The bathroom changes were more costly. The remodel of the hallway guest bathroom required Anunsen and the board to authorize the budget of $12,500.
"The outcome was great," Anunsen said. "We not only had a bathroom to accommodate Alli, but our house is now accessible to guests with disabilities."
Once Alli was initiated, chapter meetings were moved from the basement to the main floor, so Alli could participate. For off-site activities, members took turns driving Alli's van, which could accommodate her wheelchair.
Alli enjoyed her Delta Gamma experience fully. She served two terms as director: alumnae relations. She was an "anchor sister" to several new members, became a big sister, participated in all Beta Pi activities and even went to a toga party.
"I was continually impressed with Alli and her enthusiasm for Delta Gamma," said Julia Houha, one of Alli's pledge sisters and 2003 chapter president. "She wanted to contribute as much as she could in everything from chapter meetings to activities."
"I'm so thankful to Delta Gamma," said Alli. "My parents always told me to never pity myself - just do it. Delta Gamma let me do it."
This fall Alli completed her final credits to get her B.A. in both politics and Spanish, with a 3.72 GPA. She interns with the State of Oregon's Affirmative Action Agency in the Governor's Office, but plans to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and enter law school. She now attends Salem alumnae chapter meetings.
This story was written by Ann Ericksen Grim and originally appeared in the Winter 2004 issue of The Anchora of Delta Gamma.