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Fannett-Metal student focuses on abilities, not disability

December 07, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

WILLOW HILL, PA. -- Rachel Junkins doesn't use medical terms or complain when she explains why she can't use her arms or legs.

"I just see it as how God made me," she said.

In her 15 years of life, the disabilities have not stopped Rachel from doing much. She's always found a way, whether giving cheerleading, soccer, art, baseball or drama a try.

"In her mind, she's not disabled. She's going to conquer the world," said Linda Plasterer, Rachel's aide at Fannett-Metal High School and her self-titled "adopted nana."

When talking to the humble and at times shy teenager, it's incredibly easy to look beyond the wheelchair and see only an adolescent girl not unlike the rest. She talks about algebra class, happily mentions an upcoming performance in District Chorus and blushes when mentioning a crush on singer Nick Jonas.

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But then Rachel starts to work on one of her colorful sketches, a marker dangling from her mouth.

A naturally curled strand of brown hair falls in front of Rachel's eyes as she steadily outlines the latest drawing. The aspiring fashion designer often forms blue jeans and tube tops, adding butterfly wings in memory of her beloved grandmother.

Lately she's been selling her artwork at http://angelboyart.org, where children with special needs can display their pieces in online galleries. The sales and donations -- many of them anonymous -- allow Rachel to buy art supplies.

Those acts of kindness make Rachel think of her grandmother, Ethel (Breon) Junkins, whom she considers to be a guardian angel now.

"I know I have one out there," she said.

Rachel and her aide take time each school morning for a regimen of sit-ups and other exercises. Because of them, Rachel can use her abdominal muscles to hold herself in a sitting position for three minutes.

"She never ever refuses and she gives me her best shot," Plasterer said.

Rachel expertly controls her wheelchair by pushing her head into sensors. The back pad of the wheelchair has a series of embroidered hearts designed by the teenager.

At home in Spring Run, Pa., Rachel often listens to music, reads or draws. She experiments with watercolors, canvas, makers and colored pencils. Rachel, the daughter of Frederick and April Palm, has been methodically working on re-creating a bridge lately.

Although she struggles with details in things like feet and dresses, the perfectionist enjoys the way the end product speaks to her.

"It's real to me," she said.

"I've been watching her since sixth grade and each year I've seen (her art) get better. I like how she makes it come alive," Plasterer said.

Rachel recently presented the new pastor of Spring Run Bible Church with one of her pieces to welcome him to her congregation.

"I think it's how she expresses herself," Plasterer said, adding that the girl has incredible compassion for others.

Once a tiny, 5-pound baby, the smiling girl the world sees nowadays hopes she has become a role model for her three younger sisters.

"I thank God that he gave me some gifts," Rachel said.

"I'm very proud of Rachel. I always tell her she's my hero," Plasterer said.

Rachel Junkins would appreciate any donations of art supplies or monetary contributions for those supplies. Donations may be sent to 17471 Amberson Road, Spring Run, PA 17262

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