A Johnstown woman was crowned “Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania 2021″ Sunday afternoon.
Jessica Gardner received her crown and sash at St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church in Windber alongside her service dog, Ford.
“I’m feeling great. This program has opened up a whole new world for me,” Gardner said.
Jessica has Cerebral Palsy and says she lives a fulfilling and independent life, especially with the help of Ford.
Ford was also the inspiration Jessica’s platform for the competition, which is stopping service dog fraud.
“Ford can open up doors for me, he can get a soda out of the fridge for me, he can put my foot rest up and down, he can take my socks off…the list goes on and on. He is a lifesaver,” Gardner said.
There was also a virtual appearance from City of Johnstown Mayor Frank Janakovic, who delivered a surprise proclamation to Jessica.
The Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania Organization empowers women with disabilities to create change in their communities.
Windber native Barb Zablotney is the organization’s President, who says the program brings visibility to disability.
“First and foremost, they gain a sisterhood. Typically a lot of us are all scattered throughout the state. We’re in small towns by ourselves. We don’t network, we don’t get to know each other, there’s no real community. So, our organization is providing that community for these women,” Zablotney said.
She says it’s also an opportunity for the women change the world with her new sisters by her side.
“It’s given me a community. I wasn’t around a lot of people with disabilities before, and now I have all these “wheel-sisters” that I can just connect with in an amazing way,” Gardner said.