Genevieve Finn was only 14 when doctors diagnosed her with a condition that resulted in a series of operations on her hips.
Recovering from surgery required the extensive use of crutches to get around. But not wanting to settle on plain aluminum crutches, the crafty teen decided to use fabric and vinyl tape to give her metal supports some flare.
Fast forward four years, and her colorful crutches are being sported by wounded warriors, children, and others needing an extra boost.
Genevieve’s Crutches, as the effort has since been named, is a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization based out of the family’s New Jersey home. It is supported by the volunteer efforts of Genevieve; her mother, Regina; and the family’s oldest daughter, Casey, who is now 22 – as well as the generosity of others who donate their crutches to the cause.
“I have four children, so crutches tend to accumulate, [especially] when you have athletes in the house,” Regina says when recalling how the effort began. “We did a few sets of what we had in the house, hoping to share.”
The initial batch of personalized crutches was modeled after those Genevieve created for herself and her brother, who had knee surgery around the time of her own operations. Regina recalled the attention the crutches got in transit to physical therapy and other places.
“Needless to say, people stopped and looked,” she said. “The focus becomes the crutch, and not the illness or the injury.”
As the family began to gather and decorate more pairs of crutches, they began the search for people who would benefit the most. The idea to send some to wounded soldiers recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., came about as the family coped with the loss of one of their son’s friends, who was killed while serving in Afghanistan.
After some networking, the Finns found a patient who helped connect them to wounded soldiers in need of crutches. The rest is history.
Ever since, the family has traveled to the medical center every few months, with the most recent trip being in July. And each time, they bring a carload of crutches ready to donate to patients there.
“It’s always a great visit. Every time we come back with stories,” says Regina, who added that many of the recipients have undergone amputations related to combat injuries. “You would expect it to be somewhat depressing, but it is not. It is incredibly uplifting and rewarding.”
“You step in there and you are part of this family, this community,” she adds. “They are there to heal, and they work incredibly hard. They are warriors, and this is their new battle.”
One of the most rewarding parts of the project, she says, is the chance to see the recovery in patients they visit more than once.
And for the project’s namesake, Genevieve, the effort is worthwhile.
“It feels amazing to be able to help people in a different sort of way,” she says. “To be able to help them out in a way that really nobody has even thought of is really incredible.”
The teen, who will be attending Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., this fall to study business and technology, describes the project as “inspiring and humbling at the same time.”
Pairs of crutches come with all sorts of designs, the Finns say. Whether an assortment of colors or camouflage – a favorite at Walter Reed – or even sports teams and colleges, the range of designs is wide.
The family doesn’t play favorites with teams – they have created crutches that bear team emblems and mascots from across the country, in several different sports.
Since 2010, more than 150 pairs of crutches donated to the family have found their way to patients who use them on a daily basis.
And moving forward, Regina says the family hopes to start creating crutches for children, and to find ways to maintain the involvement of high school students in the creative process.
• For more information or to support Genevieve’s Crutches, visit http://genevievescrutches.com or www.facebook.com/pages/Genevieves-Crutches/613118915373519.