Lorraine Woodward of Raleigh is a mom with a mission. As a child with muscular dystrophy, she used a cane and was uninspired, to say the least, by the ugly, medical-looking canes she could find to purchase. Today, her two sons also have muscular dystrophy, and she wanted better options for them. So she started Lorraine’s Canes, a business that makes cheery, hand-painted canes and takes care to stock small sizes that kids can use. The business is currently a participant in Walmart’s “Get on the Shelf” contest, which gives individuals and small businesses a chance to have their products sold on retail giant’s website.
To vote for Lorraine’s Canes and to see a short video in which Lorraine explains her work and what inspires her, visit getontheshelf.walmart.com/product/1ef1/Lorraine-sLorraine'sCanes (voting closes on Monday). And read on to get to know the real Lorraine of Lorraine’s Canes.
Q. Tell us a little about yourself, and about your family.
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A. I am Lorraine: amulti-entrepreneur, mom, wife, and an advocate. I do my best to roll over as many toes as I can when riding around in my “Duke blue” electric wheelchair. I strive to bring a unique perspective of fun, advocacy and professionalism in my work. For some people work is a chore, but I view each project as a chance to bring magic and joy into the workplace and the lives of others.
When I’m not working, I enjoy painting, spending time on Pinterest, Broadway theater, hanging out with my friends and listening to music.
My husband, Robert, works as the IT Manager at 3 Phoenix in Wake Forest, NC. My son, Nathan,is asenior at Ravenscroft High School. He enjoys golfing, photography, following Apple and Berkshire Hathaway stocks, reading about successful businessmen, and watching movies at home. Alexander, my second son,is ajunior at Ravenscroft High School. He enjoys reading, going to the movies, Broadway theater, gaming, swimming and hanging out with his friends.
Q. When did you start Lorraine's Canes, and why?
A. To my surprise, using a walking cane changed my life. Growing up with muscular dystrophy has been a way of life for me. From my teenage years to my young adult years, I wore leg braces. Then after many surgeries, I graduated to using a walking cane.
At first, I thought using a cane would not be a big deal. I had already experienced people giving me that “poor little girl” look. But when I couldn’t find anything but an orthopedic-looking medical device, I found myself not wanting to leave the house. Knowing myself and my personality, losing my independence was not an option. The search began to find a cane that would not only meet my physical needs, but equally important, would make me feel good about using a cane. After a couple of months of searching, I found a specialty shop that sold a few hand-painted canes. I bought them all and soon these canes became an extension of my daily wardrobe.
Now at age 51, I no longer use my canes; instead I race around in my Duke blue wheelchair. However, my interest in canes has not gone away! On the contrary, my passion for creating canes that people will love has grown into a business. Lorraine’s Canes is a start-up company that specializes in hand-painted canes.
As a person who used canes for years and now a mom of two boys with muscular dystrophy, I would never want anyone to experience the looks and stares that I had to go through. This is why Lorraine’s Canes was created.
Q. What would winning Walmart's “Get on the Shelf” contest mean for your company?
A. 1. While it may sound cliché, winning the contest would mean that Lorraine’s Canes can make a difference in people’s lives. It can be so frustrating to need something, but not have the choices you would like. Although someone may not need a cane today, they may need one in the future. So another cool thing is that Lorraine’s Canes can provide those people with choices, which will make their experience using a cane much more positive.
2. We will be able to offer a product that is either currently not on the market, or is hard to find.
3. We will be able to paint canes in a warehouse and in our garage!
4. We will also be able to hire help. I am most interested in hiring college students and adults with different kinds of mental and physical disabilities.
Q. You have muscular dystrophy, as do your sons. What do you wish more people knew about your condition?
A. My two sons and I have all lived with muscular dystrophy for most of our lives. We were each diagnosed with Limb Griddle MD at ages between 2 and 3 years old. While physically slow, muscular dystrophy is just one aspect of who they each are.
Q. Another company you created, "Realistic Reflections," provides stock photography that shows people with disabilities. Why is that a service you wanted to provide?
A. In 1992, I recognized the need for a new business as a result of my own frustrations. As a graphic designer I often need photos of people with disabilities. At the time, I had only two choices — produce our own or purchase stock photography. It seemed they could never find more than a handful of stock images of people with disabilities, and they often were cost prohibitive. My response was starting Realistic Reflections, which now has an international base of clients who utilize the company’s photo products.
Q. Do you think the Triangle is an area that's attuned to the needs of people with physical disabilities? Could we be doing better?
A. I do see more groups of advocates in the Triangle that care for and work on behalf of people with disabilities. Since there are so many civil rights issues, it takes time and education to ensure equal access in our communities.
Q. What's your favorite thing to do with the whole family in the Triangle?
A. We enjoy eating out, participating in Ravenscroft fine arts and athletic events, goingto food and music festivals, and attending theater productions as well as basketball and hockey games.
Q. What's your favorite thing around here to do when you get a few hours to yourself?
A. I love to go thrift store shopping and check out new stores in Cameron Village, North Hills, or the Shops of Baileywick. I also enjoy taking my 87 lb. dog, Jake, with me to get a DQ ice cream treat and eat it in the car with him. Lazy Daze, May Daze, the Cameron Village sidewalk sales, and the Junior League’s Shopping Spree are all on my list of “must go to’s”!
Q. What's the best parenting trick you've picked up?
A. Trick, I don’t know. But I have learned to listen to what my children have to say, and to support them and their beliefs. I feel that it is important to embrace their individuality and learn from them as much as I can.
Q. What's your least favorite part and most favorite part of motherhood?
A. Most Favorite:Being with them, along with listening to them talk, laugh, sing, and grow.
Least favorite:Making dinner every night and making sure that it is “healthy.”
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