After two-and-a-half months of hard work, the Julia Randall Elementary School student council finally received their payoff:
The grin on Dustin Stroud's face.
"It was just awesome," 5th-grade teacher Alan Amman said. "It was the first time Dustin had ever been in a motorized wheelchair, the first time he didn't need other students to push him. He was free."
The occasion was last Tuesday's JRE field trip to the Valley, where 25 students journeyed to watch Dustin get fitted for the $4,000 electric wheelchair they helped to acquire for him.
In February, the school's student council decided to help someone, anyone, by organizing a fund-raising drive. At first, they considered helping victims of the 9-11 terrorists attacks. But after giving the subject some thought, the students decided to help one of their own.
And no one seemed to qualify more than their friend Dustin, a fifth-grader who cannot walk due to Cerebral Palsy.
So the students set their goal: by doing additional work at home, above and beyond their regular chores, they would raise $3,000 to buy Dustin an electric wheelchair to replace his old hand-powered one.
"We'd been able to raise about $2,400 total," said Amman, who helped the students organize the drive. "Probably $1,000 of that came from people in the community, and about $1,500 came from the students' efforts." In other words, about $600 short.
Of course, they could have raised that money, too. But they didn't have to, thanks to Becky Acord, the customer liaison for Preferred Home Care a medical supply distributor in Payson.
"We get basic wheelchairs from a variety of different manufacturers, and the certified rehab specialist who works in our main office in the Valley customizes them for people," Acord said. "If you have Parkinson's disease and your hand shakes, for instance, he can program the wheelchair's computerized controls to be less sensitive in order to make it easier for you to drive straight."
Acord's first thought when she heard about the students' fund-raising drive, she said, was that "Dustin didn't just need a wheelchair. He needed the right wheelchair."
In Dustin's case, the rehab specialist decided, "the right wheelchair" was a $4,000 Quickie-brand electric wheelchair, easy to operate and specially customized to allow a growing boy to continue growing for many years without having to worry about replacing it.
"We want him to be able to get some good use out of it," Acord said.
Her company will absorb the difference between the money raised and the wheelchair's value and will present the completed wheelchair to Dustin at a JRE ceremony later this month.
"For me, the most inspirational thing happened when we let Dustin practice driving," Acord said. "Some of the other kids got in wheelchairs, and they all started playing. Of course, he's played with those kids before, but they'd always had to push him in his wheelchair. This time, he actually got to interact. Dustin was chasing them.
"And there was a smile on his face that I'll never forget."