Multiple northern Utah County schools have set aside their normal rivalries to unite in a fundraising effort for one American Fork Junior High student.
Kevin Baillargeon is a 13-year-old seventh-grader who navigates the school hallways on a motorized wheelchair. Kevin was born with phocomelia syndrome, a rare birth defect that affects the limbs. He has no arms or legs.
Despite this disability, Kevin surprises his classmates and strangers with what he’s able to do. He loves technology and loves computers. He’s also the reigning Xbox champion in his American Fork home, which he shares with his mother, Marisa Baillargeon, his sister MaKayla and his caregiver, Matt Williamson.
“Especially when it comes to car-driving games. He always beats me,” MaKayla Baillargeon, 14, said Tuesday evening in their home.
Kevin has about three inches on his left arm, and using that and his chin, he’s able to manipulate the game controller, grab his mom’s cellphone or use the television remote. He’s also able to feed himself, but his family says “it’s not pretty.”
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way for him, and he figures it out,” Williamson said. “Kevin’s very creative when it comes to getting what he wants. He doesn’t let it slow him down.”
One example, Williamson recalled, was an early morning when no one else was awake. Kevin wanted to watch TV, but the remote was on the couch. To get on the couch, he built himself stairs with the family’s compact disc cases.
“He’s very stubborn,” Williamson said.
Kevin’s spirit has inspired so many people, the community is now chipping in to help him out with a major need. The family’s van and wheelchair lift has been broken down and non-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. He also noticed how many times the family had to leave Kevin’s wheelchair at school — including over spring break — because they had no way to transport it.
“That just broke my heart,” Schoonover said.
According to Schoonover, a new or lightly-used good condition van with a wheelchair lift will cost between $56,000 and $79,000. Williamson works as a retail merchandise manager when not caring for Kevin, and Marisa Baillargeon works as a retail store manager, and Schoonover knew money is tight for them. So he put out a district-wide appeal for help in raising the funds for the family.
Schools around Alpine School District have been working hard since the fall to raise money towards this effort. American Fork Junior High held penny wars and brought in $9,000 for the van. Timberline Middle School held a fundraiser, and was able to donate $4,061. As part of their annual Save Ferris fundraiser, Pleasant Grove High School raised $5,356 for Kevin. American Fork High School did a Sub for Santa drive and was able to donate $1,500. Orem Junior High held a fundraiser dance, and Lakeridge Junior High rallied their students, both adding to the total as well.
Local businesses have joined in the effort as well. Modern Woodmen of America donated funds, and the American Fork Fire Department held a successful fundraising car wash.
“It’s been a fun thing to see students rally around Kevin and the community be so willing to help,” Schoonover said.
All these efforts have netted about $40,000 so far, Schoonover said, and he’s sure this weekend’s event, jointly organized by the National Honor Societies at long-standing rivals Lone Peak High School and American Fork High School, will help push that total closer to their goal.
The event is Kevin’s Karnival, and will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at American Fork Junior High.
Whitney Beckstead, advisor at American Fork High, said the event — which will feature games, live entertainment, food trucks and a car show — has all been organized by her students in the National Honor Society. Sabrina Ceraso, a senior at American Fork, and Alex Edwards, a senior at Lone Peak, have been working together on the Karnival since November.
“They’ve gotten the community involved, and this is not just a school cause, but a community cause now,” Beckstead said. “These kids are amazing. This has been a student-driven project. Compared to what they’ve done, I’ve done nothing.”
Kevin and Williamson are most excited about Saturday’s car show. Kevin, whose favorite car is a Lamborghini Countach, loves going to car shows with his family. The family is planning a trip to a NASCAR race in September, and they are excited about using a new van.
“Traveling will be a big thing. When we go places, he can have his chair and the freedom to drive himself around,” Williamson said.
Apparently, they will be also well equipped for the road trip, due to another one of Kevin’s talents.
“He’s talkative around people he knows. He talks all the time. If you want to stay awake when you’re driving, take Kevin,” his mother said with a laugh.