Checking in on two locals who've beat incredible odds

As we look back on people we've met in 2018, two survivors come to mind. MelRo Potter overcame childhood trauma, and Devon Palmer recovered from a life-threatening accident. Both are now inspiring the Columbus community and beyond. Here's an update.

MelRo Potter

On a visit to Ghana this year, local model MelRo Potter charged herself with the seemingly impossible: Build a school that would house and educate 150 girls by fall. Once a homeless teen mother, Potter found kinship with the girls, who were being forced into sex trafficking.

“I'll never forget the girls staring at me with these huge eyes when I was telling them, ‘I won't leave you this way,'” Potter recalled on a mid-December phone call. “It almost haunts you, in a way.”

Potter kept her promise, and on Sept. 7, 2018, the school opened. Today, it serves 498 girls — 143 of whom live on the property.

“It was surreal walking back up and seeing it done,” Potter said. “The day that we opened, there were people from so many villages that came to support. … There was singing. There was music. I gave a speech [and] I held a few of my babies.”

Education and shelter are only part of what the girls gain from attending the school.

“Trauma dims your light and silences your voice,” Potter said. “So a huge piece of the programming is to teach these girls how to use their voice, speaking up about their safety … about how they feel, their goals, their dreams [and] their aspirations.”

Potter has plans to build another school next year. In the meantime, she is continuing her advocacy work in the foster care system, where she spent her youth. In February, she will travel to London to work with “care leavers,” or foster parents.

She also has plans to publish her memoirs.

“I have been motivated by trauma most of my life,” she said. “I just want to get to a place where I am consistently motivated by joy.”

Devon Palmer

For many of us, breaking multiple limbs would, at least temporarily, inhibit our ability to earn a living. No one was more of aware of that than local woodturner Devon Palmer, who crafts bowls, urns, sculptures and more in his studio at the Columbus Idea Foundry.

But breaking both wrists in a motorcycle accident on Nov. 27, 2017, was the least of Palmer's challenges. Among other injuries, his fractured pelvis was the worst his orthopedic surgeon had seen in decades of work.

But more than a year later, Palmer has made a miraculous recovery. “I'm doing great,” he said on a mid-December phone call. “I've been back to work since July, and I've been driving since then. I've pretty much gone from a wheelchair to walker to a couple of canes, to one cane. And now I'm starting to walk around without that.”

He isn't 100 percent, though, and may not ever fully heal in some areas. “For the muscles and the coordination, it's gonna take a couple years,” he said. “There's some nerve damage. I can't flex my right foot up.”

The good news is he is back to woodturning and teaching, with a slew of classes scheduled at Woodcraft of Columbus in the New Year. He can't harvest wood, which requires walking on uneven ground, operating a chainsaw and heavy lifting.

Luckily, that won't stop him from preparing for his first-ever art opening next year, which he said is long overdue.

Palmer said his partner, Phil Borkow, and best friend, Mike Schwartz, provided invaluable support over the past year. And he was helped tremendously by the Columbus arts community, which organized and participated in the “Turn Devon Around Benefit Show” at the foundry last February.

“Without that fundraiser, I would have had to liquidate the studio to pay its obligations,” he said.

While Palmer was unable to attend the benefit, he made it to the Columbus Arts Festival in June, where his presence is eagerly anticipated each year. Standing for brief periods in front of his walker, he taught his signature woodturning classes, and continued his tradition of passing out Klondike Bars and applesauce packets.

“It wouldn't be the Arts Festival without that,” he said.