Joel Stride is a curious nine-year-old who loves the outdoors.
Fascinated by how things grow, he maintained a plot in the community garden last summer and couldn’t wait to get out and see his sprouts emerge from the soil.
However, these little adventures take a lot of extra effort for the youth and his Grand Falls-Winsor family.
They don’t have an accessible vehicle for Joel, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair for mobility.
As his mother, Erica Billings, explains, even everyday errands are made complicated without one.
“Most nine-year-olds will be getting in and out of the car on their own, and just using a booster seat. But Joel needs to be lifted into a car seat from his wheelchair, and then his wheelchair needs to be lifted into the vehicle to travel with us,” said Billings. “And when we get there, it’s a process of lifting the wheelchair out, lifting him out and putting him into the wheelchair, and then lifting him and the chair in again when we go to leave.”
This repeated lifting is causing strain for Billings and those who care for him. Joel is about 55lbs and his wheelchair is 53lbs.
Friend and coworker Tracey Power has seen this struggle first hand when they’ve gone on outings. Since January, she and fellow staff of the Exploits Valley Community Coalition Family Resource Centre have been fundraising for a wheelchair accessible van.
Their group is called Friends of Joel, and their goal is to raise $30,000.
With this money, Billings will qualify for the provincial government’s Accessible Vehicle Funding Program, which will subsidize the cost of retrofitting a van with accessible features.
There has been $25,023 collected as of March 19.
“When I brought the idea to the staff, they just jumped onboard,” said Porter "We’re all about helping children and supporting families. We take for granted just being able to put your children in the car, buckle up and go. Erica has to do way more than that.”
The initiative has garnered tremendous support from the surrounding community.
For example, the Botwood Kinsmen Club sponsored the cause with $5,000. Local resident Pat O’Reily also completed a 30-kilometre walk on March 12, collecting $1,100 in sponsors. As well, the St. Alban’s Anglican Church held a gospel concert on March 18, which raised more than $840.
Multiple organizations and businesses continue to make contributions.
Billings says Joel has been enjoying the different events and noted how grateful they are for all the support.
She says the van will not only be practical but will add to Joel’s already strong sense of independence.
“He’s a very pleasant child. He doesn’t complain about anything,” says Billings. “But I think he’s going to be really proud to be able to roll in and go on.”
About the initiative
- Donations can be made by visiting any branch of the Newfoundland and Labrador Credit Union. The account is called Friends of Joel.
- Email money transfers are also accepted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Password: Joel.
- Visit the Friends of Joel Facebook group for information on current and upcoming fundraisers.