One American Fork Junior High seventh-grader will have more access to the world outside school and home due to the joint efforts of multiple school communities.
With police, fire, government officials and students from multiple north county schools cheering him on, Kevin Baillargeon, 13, rolled his wheelchair into the back of a new Dodge van Friday morning at the conclusion of a special ceremony at American Fork Junior High.
“Thanks everybody. I really appreciate all of this,” Kevin said Friday.
Funding for the new silver van, equipped with a wheelchair ramp, has been an entire school year in the making. Kevin was born with phocomelia syndrome, a rare birth defect that affects the limbs. He has no arms or legs. He navigates his world at home by rolling himself around. For school and other activities, he uses a motorized wheelchair.
The family’s old van and wheelchair lift hasn’t been working for about four years. When the family wants to travel places together, they must borrow a trailer from extended family, just to carry Kevin’s wheelchair. Jeff Schoonover, American Fork Junior High principal, noticed this at the beginning of the year — how many times the family had to leave Kevin’s wheelchair at school because they had no way to transport it.
Schoonover put out a district-wide appeal for help in raising the funds for a working van for the family, and was answered by an entire community. American Fork Junior High started the school year by raising more than $9,000 through its Penny Wars campaign. Orem Junior High joined in with a Halloween benefit dance. Timberline Middle School, Pleasant Grove High School and American Fork High School all held different fundraisers to contribute to the cause.
All these efforts had raised about $40,000 by mid-April, but there was still a need for at least $20,000 more. Schoonover was hoping to purchase a new or lightly-used good condition van with a wheelchair lift, but was looking at a cost between $56,000 and $79,000.
The schools all teamed up together again, enlisting the efforts of many community members, and put on a final carnival fundraiser in April.
“With Kevin’s Karnival, we raised $31,000 in one day. That was unbelievable,” Schoonover said to cheers from his students Friday.
He shared the story of how one gentleman “walked up and handed me a $5,000 check and then walked away.” In all, the combined efforts of students, businesses and community members brought the total to $85,171.
“A miraculous event has taken place,” Shane Farnsworth, administrator of secondary schools with Alpine School District, said Friday. “This represents your school, other schools, and the entire community coming together to do great things.”
Because of the unified efforts of so many, the Baillargeon family now can enjoy the same mobility freedom of so many others in their American Fork neighborhood. To celebrate this, the family packed up their new van and took off after school Friday for a weekend getaway to Yellowstone National Park.