Residents of the Montana Veterans Home in Columbia Falls got a special treat right before Christmas as they were paid a special visit by a “wheelchair angel” as part of the Moving Forward Adaptive Sports Gifts of Love Program.
Shannon and Starla Hilliard-Barnes, along with their 6-year-old daughter, Elissiah, spent hours at the Veterans Home Dec. 23, spreading joy and displaying Christmas spirit.
“Just having one person come by and show how much they care can really help someone get through a really tough time,” Starla said.
Starla was paralyzed in 2009 after she was knocked off her motorcycle in a downtown Kalispell intersection by a hit-and-run driver. By 2015, she was just beginning to be able to stand on her own and was learning to walk. She was then tragically re-paralyzed after the family’s car was rear-ended while they were in Denver promoting a new paralysis recovery center. In the collision, Shannon suffered a traumatic brain injury. Their daughter was not injured.
It was in 2014 that Starla and Shannon founded Moving Forward Adaptive Sports in Kalispell, which offers more than a dozen different sporting events for differently-abled athletes, plus instruction about modeling, acting and public speaking. It was at the same time that the Gifts of Love program came to be.
“It really started as something my husband and I did, along with my mom. We started with just 20 families and the hospital and it just grew from there,” Starla said. “We know what it is like to be stuck in the hospital during that holidays and not have anyone around to give love.”
This year, the Gifts of Love program visited 554 individuals throughout the Flathead Valley during the holiday season, including spending all of Christmas Day visiting patients at Kalispell Regional Medical Center and delivering presents to 300 families in need.
Dozens of adaptive-sports athletes and locals volunteered their time to make the program a success, including the 75 volunteers that helped deliver presents on Christmas Day.
“It is one of the best feelings in the world to give to others without expecting to receive anything in return,” Starla said. “The people that help out with this are some of the most down-to-Earth, selfless individuals I have ever met.”
For more information about the Gifts of Love program or Moving Forward Adaptive Sports, contact Starla by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 406-890-4882 or on Facebook.