Self-starters who solved their own problems

Our last "Problem? No Problem!" inspired even more suggestions and emails. We've gathered a few more stories about people who saw a need or faced a challenge, and created a solution. Here's how they made a difference.

Jenniffer Weigel, Tribune Newspapers

(Got your own story? Send it to us at TribU@Tribune.com with the subject line "No Problem!" and it could be added to the list!)

Pat Hughes helps the disabled fuel up

Pumping gas seems like a mindless activity to many. But it's a nearly impossible task if you have a disability.

"My friend Mitch is a quadriplegic and he came up to me at a trade show and said, 'I can't get gas in my car,'" said Pat Hughes, creator of the FuelCall gas station system, . "We have about 15 million people driving who have disabilities and they can't get assistance at the pump. I wanted to make it easier for them."

The FuelCall system consists of an oversize call button located on the fuel island that can be pushed from the driver's car. This then alerts the staff that a driver with disabilities needs assistance at the pump. Hours that assistance is available are posted near the button.

"The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that if there is more than one person working at a gas station, one of them has to pump your gas if you need it," Hughes said. "Most drivers with disabilities that I know wind up just sticking with a local station that they know and love, or use their wife, friends or family members to pump the gas for them. But if they are alone or traveling, the options are very limited."

While demand has grown in the seven years FuelCall has been available, Hughes said there's still a long way to go.

"Out of the nearly 159,000 gas stations across the country, 400 of them are signed up for this," said Hughes.

FuelCall recently launched an app that allows people to use their smartphones to find stations that use the system.

"These are customers, not people asking for a handout," he said. "It makes me very happy to know that such a basic thing like pumping gas can be done now for this community."

For more information or to find a FuelCall system in your neighborhood, visit http://www.fuelcall.net.

Imran Khan motivates students to aim high

Getting students from Harper High School motivated to go to class can be an uphill battle.

"It's really challenging because of the violence," said Imran Khan, an English teacher at the West Englewood high school. "More of my students know people in jail than they know people in college."

Khan decided to organize trips to take his students outside of their neighborhood to see if it would make a difference.

"Most of the kids had never been downtown," Khan said. "They didn't know what Millennium Park looked like. One student literally didn't even know there was a lake. He'd never seen Lake Michigan. We're talking about a 17-year-old!"

After taking a group to the University of Chicago, Khan noticed the students were far more motivated to stay in school.

"It was a huge experience for them," said Khan. "They were asking me, 'What do I need to do? I want to go there.' For years I'd been fighting this battle in the classroom, but I realized this is a war that requires moving outside the classroom. If we are going to win, we have to show these kids what's available to them and get them connected to their community."

Khan decided to expand the field trips into a nonprofit program that provides cultural, artistic and culinary experiences for students. EMBARC Chicago (which stands for "Empowering Minds, Building Achievement and Reconnecting Communities") is approaching its one-year anniversary, and the cultural and educational exposure is building enthusiasm among the Harper students.

"We have more students getting scholarships to colleges this year than we did last year," said Khan, who is also EMBARC's executive director. "When I started doing the field trips, I had a tough time convincing even five students to come to the city. Now I have 120 applicants and counting. I just got six in today."

Khan said plans are in motion to have EMBARC programs available in four more Chicago public schools within the next five years.

"We've created a model that can expand easily to other schools," Khan said. "I'm getting approached by principals and administrators from Chicago Public Schools. We've partnered with businesses and restaurants and the Joffrey Ballet — all of those relationships are really culminating. We want people to say, 'We're excited to help. We want to work with kids.' "

To learn more about the programs or to get involved, visit http://www.embarcchicago.org.

Phyllis Parise has a new take on old soles

Phyllis Parise likes to help people. But helping people and talking about it are two very different things.

"Some people talk a good game but they don't do a thing," said Parise, founder of Jolly Old Soles, a charity that donates shoes to those in need. "I have always been involved in charities and thought I needed to do something more, so I figured, 'Everyone needs shoes. Why not donate shoes?' My basement is now a shoe palace."

Parise has collected nearly 1,200 pair of shoes and donated 900 since launching Jolly Old Soles in December 2010.

"I hear about a charity or a community that is falling on hard times, and I make a call, and ask when I can come and drop off some shoes," she said. "Right now, I have about 200 pair I'm going to give to an American Indian reservation in Manderson, S.D. If I can't get someone to donate the shipping, I'll just drive them there myself."

Parise, a single parent who teaches at Lewis University's college of business when she's not running Jolly Old Soles, said there's no excuse for not giving back.

"There's always someone who has it worse than you," she said. "Not that I don't have problems too—but I think people need to do more to help out. Everyone has a pair of shoes they'd don't use anymore in their closet. Why not give them to someone who will be happy to have them?"

Jolly Old Soles will be taking donations at their "Kick-Off" party on Nov. 19 in Naperville. For more information, visit http://www.jollyoldsoles.com.
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