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Search The Fig Tree's stories of people who make a difference:

Counselor helps people with disabilities overcome barriers

by Sara Parker

Throughout her life, Wilma Bob has observed how disabilities can affect a person’s quality of life from a variety of perspectives. 

Wilma Bob

Wilma Bob at the American Indian Community Center

Now, through her work as a vocational rehabilitation counselor at the American Indian Community Center in Spokane, as chaplain for the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Police, as an ordained minister and in facilitating a Bereaved Parents support group, she is able not only to support disabled American Indians, but also to hear frustrations of police, lead a celebration circle and support families who have lost children.

Growing up on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation in North Idaho in a family with 11 children, she had a sister with polio.

 “I saw how people treated her—how she got left behind again and again—so I’d slow down and walk with her so she wouldn’t have to be by herself.  Society doesn’t see the disabled, so we always helped her if we could,” Wilma said.

In 1998, Wilma was involved in a car accident when a driver struck her car while attempting to pass her on a snowy highway.


At the hospital, she was given pain medication, to which she had an allergy.  A migraine developed and pressure burst a blood vessel behind one of her eyes.

As a result, she has double vision and trouble with depth perception.  She now uses a Zoomtext screen that helps magnify print and graphics 10 times so she can read them.  She also has special glasses to help her read for work and drive. 

Despite her visual impairment, Wilma is active in her community.

As a vocational rehabilitation counselor for nearly two years, she assists “anyone who has a barrier and can’t do a job they once did.”

She meets with people who come between 8:30 and 11:30 a.m., Wednesdays, at the American Indian Community Center, 801 E. Third in Spokane.  She gives them application forms and counsels them to help them articulate their needs.

“As an employment program, the Career Renewal Program  remove barriers that inhibit people from working,” she said.

It helps disabled people who are members of federally-recognized tribes find and maintain employment by assessing their abilities, developing plans of action and following up after they find jobs.

“If someone has an eye problem that impedes functionality, we can buy glasses.  If someone has a hearing problem, we can provide for the person to get hearing aids, as long as it’s directly tied to employment,” Wilma said.

One person she is helping was a felon no one would hire.  He is going to trucking school and will be a long-haul trucker after that. 

A person with an injured leg is being retrained for other work and begins studies at Spokane Community College in the fall.

“It’s renewing for me to help people, because for many years, I did not work,” she said.

As a police chaplain, she rides with Coeur d’Alene Tribal police and lets them talk just to help relieve their stress.  She has been doing that for a year.  She also provides emotional support for both officers and families affected by trauma on the reservation.

“If there’s a death notification, we can travel with them and sit with the family,” she said.

Wilma tailors her services to meet the needs of each person.

As an ordained minister serving the Celebration Circle Fellowship with the Kingdom Fellowship Church Alliance, she was doing counseling.  That’s how she was asked to do the vocational rehabilitation counselor job.

The fellowship she leads in Worley, Idaho, is one of 13 circles in the Kingdom Fellowship Church Alliance in this region.

“We use a form of traditional services that involves people who are comfortable with different faiths.  If we can’t meet their needs, then we’ll find someone who can,” she said. 

“We can find spiritual leaders in any of the four tribes surrounding Spokane: the Coeur d’Alene, Kalispel, Spokane and Nez Perce,” she said.  “We locate the spiritual leader and provide transportation to and from the ceremony.”

Although Wilma had been raised Catholic, she converted to the Pentecostal faith in 1985.  The celebration circles are small, personal gatherings in a home. 

“It’s non-traditional, with no chairs, pews, pulpit or single leader,” she explained.

People bring music and share their concerns and experiences in seeking to live faithfully.

“Everyone brings something to share,” Wilma said.  “I take notes and tie together what people share with Scripture so they see how the Lord is working in their lives.”

The church also incorporates Coeur d’Alene traditions of dance, sign language and drama.

As a minister, she also counsels people with marital, domestic violence, and physical and sexual abuse issues.

Wilma does her best to meet the needs of whoever comes to her for help, providing food, clothing and transportation, funded by donations from the community.

Two months ago, her church took three truckloads and a trailer load of food, clothing and household items to flood victims on the Siksika Reservation near Calgary, Alberta.

“I keep in touch with the people and we hope to gather funds and take a group to do manual labor to help them recover,” she said.

Wilma and her husband of 43 years, Thomas, have two boys and two girls, but lost two children to crib death and one in a miscarriage, so she identifies with bereaved parents. 

So she is bringing a branch of the Bereaved Parents of the USA Support Group to the Coeur d’Alene reservation.  Although her surviving children are all grown, she finds that the loss of her other three children still affects her years later.

“When you’re a mother, and you give birth to a baby, there’s much pain. When they put your baby on you, the pain goes away. With a miscarriage, there isn’t anything to take that pain away,” Wilma said.

She hopes the bereaved parents support group will help bring understanding, compassion and hope to new people experiencing grief, whether they are parents, grandparents, siblings or other family.

It is a self-help group, with people who have experienced the death of children helping others, letting them know they are not alone and learning how others have redirected their lives.  The group meets on the third Thursdays of every month.

For information, call 208-686-6403 or email

Copyright © September 2013 - The Fig Tree