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Southeast Texas community helps 6-year-old with cerebral palsy get 'life changing' van

Melissa and her daughter were in need of a wheelchair-accessible van. She called on the community for help, and donors came together to make it happen.

BEAUMONT, Texas — A Beaumont family needing an accessible van finally received their new wheels. 

Melissa Johnson and her daughter Grace Johnson were in need of a wheelchair-accessible van. Melissa called on the community for help in a fundraiser, and donations started pouring in.

"It's a huge deal," Melissa said. "It will be very life changing in my little girl's life."

Three weeks ago, the fundraiser was about 40 percent towards the goal. The fundraiser jumped to over 80 percent completion overnight. 

6-year-old Grace got her new ride Saturday, Jan. 30. 

Family, friends and church members gathered at Beaumont's First Baptist Church to see Grace's new wheelchair-accessible van. 

Non-profit organization Love Rescues, that helps orphans and underprivileged children internationally, played a vital role in making Melissa and Grace's goal become a reality.

"I would encourage our community to continue to help people who have special needs and have needs like this, where they need a van, because it is truly lifesaving for the families involved," Johnson said. 

Grace has cerebral palsy, and she is currently unable to walk without assistance. 

RELATED: Southeast Texas mom fundraising to buy wheelchair-accessible van for daughter with cerebral palsy

The mom and daughter needed the van because Grace is growing and it is getting harder for her mom to get her in and out of their SUV without help. 

Melissa said now, new adventures awaits them thanks to an outpouring of love. 

“For the first time in a long time, we’re going to be able to go places and let Grace enjoy life again," Melissa said. "We’ll get to go to the library. I can’t wait to take her to school on Monday. Just all the things that have been such a challenge for so long, today that changes. And we get to kind of go at ease again and to make life more enjoyable.”

Credit: Jana Cash

The new van was specially customized with Grace's growing body in mind. If the Johnsons keep the van long enough, Grace may be able to drive it herself.

"She'll be able to drive this van to college one day," Melissa said.

When Grace is old enough to drive, a company associated with the wheelchair-accessible van will send an instructor to teach Grace how to drive using handbrakes. 

"They'll have to do a conversion of the gas and the brake, but this chair will come out and they already have the tracks in place to where they could lock her chair into place in the front seat," said Jean-Paul Osteen, president of Love Rescues.

Credit: KBMT
Credit: KBMT

Family friend and fellow church member Jay Wallis said he understands the Johnson's struggles. His son has spinal muscular atrophy, a disability that causes premature muscle loss over time. 

“It was March of 2014, we finally got a van for Benjamin, and it was life changing, a whole lot different because before that, my wife could really take him anywhere,” Willis said. “And it was getting difficult for her to lift him in and out of the vehicle. Once we got the van, she was able to take him basically wherever she wanted.”

He said every parent wants their children to be able to go to different places and see different things. But when there's no way to travel easily, you have fewer experiences to offer.

"For her, She's so young, she may not realize what a difference it's gonna make, but she'll have a whole more experiences throughout her life now," Willis said. 

And Grace already had her mind made up about her first trip in her new wheels. 

"I'm going to the Aquarium!" Grace said. 

"It's hard to describe to families with abled-bodied kids exactly what that feels like but, it's like giving someone legs who's never had legs before," Willis said. "It's giving you a whole new level of independence."

RELATED: Beaumont teen receives scholarship after viral post of him taking care of mother with cerebral palsy

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