Lumbee Tribe, UNCP help student overcome mobility barrier


Dustin Chavis

From left: Ruby Locklear, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, Cheryl Revels, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, Celeste Hunt, director of Lumbee Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation Program, and Tribal Chairman Paul Brooks, Nicolette Campos, acting director of UNCP’s Office of Accessibility Resource Center; Debbie Lowery, accommodations coordinator and Shawnda Cummings, administrative support specialist. (Photo courtesy Lumbee Tribe)

Dustin Chavis doesn’t like to depend on others. But he had to when this summer his electric wheelchair began acting up. 

It was especially frustrating for Chavis who needed to get back and forth to his classes at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. The battery in his wheelchair wouldn’t hold a charge, so Chavis relied on fellow students to push him across campus to his classes and to his apartment. 

“I had to have my friends push me around,” Chavis said. “That was very stressful. It was very frustrating.” 

For the next five weeks, Chavis needed help getting around. Chavis, who is 21, was born with cerebral palsy. He receives academic accommodations through the Accessibility Resource Center at UNCP. Debbie Lowery, who works for the center, recognized Chavis’ dilemma and contacted the Lumbee Tribe’s Vocational Rehabilitation program. 

The program provides vocational rehabilitation services to tribal members with disabilities, said Cheryl Revels, a vocational rehabilitation counselor with the Lumbee Tribal administrative office. 

“We were real pleased to be able to assist Dustin when we learned the obstacles he was facing as far as getting around on campus,” said Revels. “It was a very speedy process after we completed his application.” 

Two weeks later, a brand new burgundy motorized wheelchair was delivered to Chavis’ apartment on campus. He was speechless. 

The new chair is equipped with a joystick on the armrest, which gives Chavis full control of his movements. He can also adjust his seat and headrest. 

He refused to remove the plastic from the chair for several days. He calls it his “Porsche.” 

“I was very excited because I love my mobility,” Chavis said. “I am very independent. I don’t like having to depend on other people. I love my freedom.” 

Celeste Hunt, director of the Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation program, said her office provides services such as counseling, evaluation, assessment, job search, job placement, vocational materials, tuition and fees, books and supplies, tools and other technical assistance. Hunt said the program’s ultimate goal is to assist their clients in obtaining a successful employment outcome. 

Chavis, a junior studying psychology, wants to eventually get a doctorate and open up his own private practice. “I want to help our military servicemen and women who come home from war and are diagnosed with PTSD,” he said. 

A Rowland resident and a 2012 graduate of South Robeson High School, Chavis is the son of Cheryl Lynn Chavis. 

Nicolette Campos is the acting director for the Accessibility Resource Center at UNCP. She has known Chavis since he was a freshman. 

“Dustin is well-known on our campus,” Campos said. “He is a social butterfly. We always tease him because he always has a group of students with him, especially girls. He is very independent and for him to be suddenly stuck with not a way to get around, that was very tough for Dustin to rely on others. 

“We were excited when we learned the Lumbee Tribe was able to purchase Dustin a new motorized chair,” Campos continued. “Dustin always has a grin on his face, but he had the biggest grin on the day he came into our office on his new power chair.” 

“It is nice to be able to have resources to reach out to in times like this,” Campos said. “In this case, the resource was the Lumbee Tribe and they really came through for Dustin. It is good to know that we have that support system.” 

Celeste Hunt, VR director for the tribe, agreed. “Being able to collaborate with UNCP in providing servicing for our Lumbee Indian students is very inspiring,” she said. 

“We will continue to advocate and encourage our Lumbee Indian students in order to successfully achieve an employment outcome,” Hunt said. “We look forward to our continued partnership with UNCP and the Accessibility Resource Center.” 

The Lumbee Tribe’s Vocational Rehabilitation program provides assistance to tribal members with a disability living in the tribal service area of Cumberland, Hoke, Robeson, or Scotland Counties. The office is located at 171 Comtech Drive in Pembroke.