Jeff Sanders never thought he'd one day graduate from college, earn a master's degree or work as a counselor. Even further from his radar was the possibility that he would one day use a wheelchair to create art.
"I basically thought my life, or any quality of it, was gone," the 39-year-old Warren man said. "When I look back over the past 19 years it's still hard to believe what's happened, where I was and where I am now."
At 20, Sanders jumped head first out of a second-story window, landing himself in the hospital with severe injuries including a broken neck.
"It was 1994. I had a drug and alcohol problem and was in the middle of a detox," he explained. "I actually landed on the first-floor roof, which may have saved my life. I had been in and out of rehab and incarcerated in six states. I jumped out that window and became a quadriplegic. It's been a long road. But here I am."
Sanders thought his life, or any quality of it, was gone. However, on Thursday at the Warren Family Mission, he put his wheelchair into action and demonstrated how he applies paint to canvas and creates design using his wheels.
With the help of his stepdad, David Wood, of Cortland, and friends James and Julia Shuttic of Warren, Sanders finished one project, "Purple Majesty," and started a second one that displays the slogans "Appeal to Heaven" and "Don't Tread on Me."
Wheelchair artist Jeff Sanders, 39, of Warren, works on a painting Thursday at the Warren Family Mission. Sanders, paralyzed in a fall nearly 20 years ago, plans to auction the artwork created Thursday and donate proceeds to the mission.
Sanders splatters, flings, squirts and drips paint on his canvas before spinning his wheels through it to spread the colors in various directions.
"I think I'm the only one on the planet with wheels like this right now," he said with a chuckle as he moved back and forth across the canvas.
Sanders, a licensed drug and alcohol and mental health counselor, works for Valley Counseling and Trumbull County Children Services Board. He has been in recovery for several years and said he is in a wheelchair because of his addiction. He plans to auction the art he created on Thursday and donate any proceeds to the mission.
"After I got hurt, my mom quit her job and raised me back up," he said. "I had so many things to relearn, and so many things to actually learn. But I want to make a difference. I want to be an inspiration, to share my faith and show people what can be done, what God can help you do. I've had to rely on my faith. Because of that I've learned that I can rely on my faith, I can rely on God to get me through. He already has gotten me through so much."
Sanders moved into the mission last year and is writing a book about his experiences. Part of his journey has included living in his van, traveling across the country and stopping at many soup kitchens and missions along the way. The book, he said, is a reflection of his life.
"The way to get through your problem, any problem, is to go through your problem," he said. "In America it's all about second chances and hard work to get you where you're going, where you want and need to go. I'm like Humpty Dumpty. I learned that you can put yourself together again if you work hard. If you put hard work with faith, you'll get there. I'm proof of that."