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‘You can’t rely on other people to build you up’

Overcoming depression, disability to find new passions

Shane Brewer believes people have to find it within themselves to change. And he should know. The Comstock Park High School senior has gone from unmotivated teen to someone who wants to devote his life to motivating others.

Shane was born with spina bifida, which, in his case, means he cannot walk without an amount of effort that is exhausting. He has used a wheelchair pretty much full-time since middle school.

“I was depressed because of my disability,” he said. “I fell into a slump. I didn’t see the point of school. I was rebellious, and I was in the hospital a lot.”

The youngest of three children recalled thinking, “I’m the only person in my family who has a trace of spina bifida. Why me? There was nobody to be mad at, nobody to blame. So I thought, I’m just a kid in a wheelchair. I’ll never really do anything.”

Shane’s lack of motivation continued through the beginning of high school, though sophomore year his outlook improved somewhat as he settled in to school.

‘I want people to know they can do anything — to just push others to see things in themselves they don’t see, or can’t see, or won’t see.’ — Shane Brewer

Then he faced another health setback: a ruptured bladder that landed him in the intensive care unit and kept him out of school the first month of his junior year. He said it took tremendous effort to get back into school work, and it wasn’t until the end of his junior year that things started to turn around.

“I did the bare minimum (in school),” Shane said. “Even though I got tons of warnings, I just scraped along. It’s not that I’m not smart. I just didn’t see the point.”

Until he did.

Shane Brewer with his girlfriend, Tori, at the high school’s homecoming

Shift in Thinking

That’s when teacher Mary Dalton suggested he get involved with the ACE Project, a collaboration among seven Kent County school districts, Goodwill Industries, Disability Advocates of Kent County and Michigan Rehabilitation Services to help students apply and maintain employment near the end of their high school careers.

“I started to shift my thinking,” Shane said. “I thought, even if what I am going through is what I’m going through, I have to change my thinking about it.”

Shane got a summer gig doing archiving for the city of Grand Rapids.

“History is one of my passions, so that was really up my alley,” he said. “I love that stuff.”

Dalton and some of his friends also encouraged him to enroll in the digital imaging program at Kent Career Tech Center, where he discovered a love of photography and photo editing.

“This place is great,” he said of the Tech Center. “I love everything about photography: setting up the shot, editing. Everything.”

Shane plans to take some time off after graduation to map out his next move. One possible pursuit: motivational speaking.

“I have several messages,” he said. “I want people to know they can do anything — to just push others to see things in themselves they don’t see, or can’t see, or won’t see. To convince them they have to find it within themselves. That’s what I did.

“You can’t rely on other people to build you up. You can sit there, take what you’ve been given and sulk, but to turn it around? You have to do that yourself.”

Shane hasn’t had any speaking gigs yet, but “I have a lot of connections for getting started,” he said. “I just have to start writing what I want to say.”


Watch Shane’s WOOD TV interview on his involvement in the ACE Program

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.


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  1. As one of Shane’s teachers this year… I feel blessed that I had the chance to help him achieve his goal of graduation. Knowing him has made me a better person.


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