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Disability Awareness Program Showcases Campus Talent

By Eddy Ball
December 2008

Long opened the program with a short biography of Menetrez and joked about the Canadian-born author's distinctive accent, which he acquired growing up in Brooklyn. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Menetrez spoke and read from his seat at the front of the auditorium, creating a atmosphere of intimacy with his audience as he shared his - and his protagonist's - struggles with and triumph over extreme physical challenges. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Zeldin, who was still reading the novel at the time of Menetrez's visit to NIEHS, also expressed his respect for the author's scientific publications. "I've cited his work in my own research," Zeldin explained. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Alicia Moore
DAC Chair Alicia Moore, right, presented Menetrez with a poster in appreciation for what she described as an "inspiring" presentation. "This could be the first time we've had a book reading at NIEHS," she said. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

vocalists Jennie Foushee of NIEHS, Elin Ulrich of EPA, Nancy Powell and Alyson Scoltock of NIEHS, and Joyce Terry of EPA covered
Shown above, left to right, vocalists Jennie Foushee of NIEHS, Elin Ulrich of EPA, Nancy Powell and Alyson Scoltock of NIEHS, and Joyce Terry of EPA covered "What the World Needs Now" and other favorites. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS concluded its observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) with an afternoon of events on October 28. The highlights included a book reading in Rodbell Auditorium by EPA Environmental Engineer and novelist Marc Yves Menetrez, Ph.D., and a reception in the NIEHS cafeteria following the reading. Both events were sponsored by the Diversity Council's Disability Advocacy Committee (DAC) and drew fans of homegrown talent from both sides of the lake.

As people entered Rodbell Auditorium, they were greeted with piano music by DAC member Jennie Foushee and a slide show produced by DAC Chair Alicia Moore highlighting famous people with disabilities. Following a welcome by DAC member Molly Vallant and an introduction by his long-time EPA associate and friend, NIEHS Deputy Associate Director for Management Chris Long, Menetrez spoke to the audience about his novel, The Scent of Wildflowers, and read excerpts from the story.

Like the protagonist of the story, Trey Barbette, Menetrez was injured in an accident that left him wheelchair bound and facing life on much different terms. In the saga that unfolds in Menetrez's story, Trey encounters and overcomes the deep despair of his loss as he works with his family and physical therapist, Raney Currin. The two help each other with their individual disabilities - in Raney's case a psychological trauma from her past - and fall in love.

Menetrez described writing his first novel as a "catharsis" and conceded that, like most first novels, "this one has autobiographical elements." Asked about his experience as a prolific author of scientific articles writing a novel, Menetrez said that he felt liberated and "inebriated by the emotion" of creating a fictional world - a marked contrast to his feelings when he writes about his research on radioactivity and biological contaminants.

The program concluded with remarks by NIEHS Acting Clinical Director Darryl Zeldin, M.D. Zeldin described Menetrez as an embodiment of the theme of NDEAM -"America's People... America's Talent... America's Strength" - and offered to help the author share his experiences as a recuperating patient with medical students at UNC and Duke, where Zeldin holds adjunct appointments.

Moore returned to the NDEAM theme as she gave Menetrez a special thanks for sharing his book. She also referred to theme as she served as mistress of ceremony during the reception program that followed. Moore introduced the musical entertainment, gave an inspirational reading of her own about living with a disability and welcomed EPA chemist Elin Ulrich, Ph.D., who talked enthusiastically about the rewards of her volunteer work as a walker for guide dogs in training, such as her companion, Lucky, a seven-month-old Golden Labrador Retriever.

Alexander Drive Band trumpeter Mike Humble, left, and alto saxophonist Lisa Chadwick of NIEHS
Alexander Drive Band trumpeter Mike Humble, left, and alto saxophonist Lisa Chadwick of NIEHS waited for their cue with tenor saxophonist Stan Malette, right - their instruments at the musicians' equivalent of parade rest. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

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