How one grant paved a path for this student’s life

Feb 18, 2019

When Kimberly Díaz Pérez and her family moved to Newnan five years ago, she did not know what to expect. Díaz Pérez attended a top math and science high school in Puerto Rico. She finished her Senior year at East Coweta High School.

Unlike most anxious high school Seniors about to start college, Díaz Pérez had Muscular Dystrophy. It’s a “lack of strength everywhere,” she explained. “Lack of strength in my legs, and then it went up to my torso, and then it went up to my arms.”

As a young child, Díaz Pérez started losing strength in her legs. When she reached the age of nine or ten, she could no longer walk. “It wasn’t something I saw coming,” she said. 

Muscular Dystrophy is usually genetically inherited. “That’s was one of the things that was interesting,” Díaz Pérez said, “Nobody in my family had it, so we didn’t know how to adapt to it. We didn’t know how it worked. It was just a learning experience for all of us.”

Interacting with doctors and nurses over the years sparked her interest in biology, specifically genetics. Díaz Pérez knew she wanted to apply to Georgia State University for a Bachelor’s degree in Biology. After she got her acceptance letter, Díaz Pérez had one big logistical problem: she did not own a wheelchair lift.

Georgia State University’s sprawling campus in Downtown Atlanta has high rises, old buildings, stairs and busy streets—not exactly wheelchair-friendly. Díaz Pérez needed to use her cumbersome power wheelchair to get around. To make this work, she needed a lift to load her wheelchair onto her dad’s Ford Explorer and get it to school or an accessible bus stop.

 “If I didn’t have that [lift], I wouldn’t be able to move myself. I would have to depend on my parents,” she said.

A special education staff member at East Coweta High School suggested Díaz Pérez apply for an Operation Round Up grant through Coweta-Fayette EMC.  

Operation Round Up is a separate trust affiliated with Coweta-Fayette EMC. Members elect to round up their bills to the nearest dollar amount. That money is collected in a trust account and distributed to community members and organizations in need.

Díaz Pérez got the grant to put a wheelchair ramp in her father’s Ford Explorer. It was ready to use that summer before her classes started.

“My dad was stoked because he’s the one that carries me,” she said.

Four years later, Díaz Pérez graduated summa cum laude.

Because of the ramp, Díaz Pérez gained more than an education at Georgia State—she gained a sense of adventure.

“I’ve always thought that when you get to college, your world opens up a lot,” she said.

“I’ve done a few things over the past four years that I didn’t think of doing before. I went skydiving last year,” she said.

Díaz Pérez also traveled to Australia two years ago. “I had a blast,” she said. “Two weeks ago I was in L.A.,” she continued, “I always wanted to go to L.A. I went for a week of sightseeing.” Next, she wants to try parasailing and traveling to Europe.

“I just feel more comfortable with myself—with how I am and even my disability,” she said, “And that just shifted to…seeing what I have accomplished so far and seeing what I’m able to do in the future.”

Díaz Pérez’s next adventure will be graduate school at Emory where she plans to earn a PhD in Biology with an emphasis on genetics and bioinformatics. She’ll be the first person in her family to attend graduate school.

Operation Round Up grants have helped many individuals and out communities. If you would like to make a small donation by rounding up your bill each month, sign up for Operation Round Up here.

Listen to Díaz Pérez tell her story in the video below: