Lifelong Sandwich resident Cayla J. Lemire has used her wheelchair accessible van since she was a young teenager. The vehicle, now 18 years old, is at the end of its life.
“This van has lasted a long time,” Ms. Lemire said as she posed with it for a photograph at her home in Forestdale this week. “It has helped me with everything. It’s how I get around.”
While the van can still be used for short drives, the vehicle is starting to fall apart. “Rust corrosion has rendered it unsafe to repair any further,” Ms. Lemire said. “The dealer said that if they remove one piece, other pieces might fall off.”
Ms. Lemire, 31, who graduated from Sandwich High School in 2008, has a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy called Merosin-Deficient Congenital Muscular Dystrophy.
She relies on a power wheelchair to get around, and a wheelchair-accessible vehicle for transport.
Ms. Lemire is currently finishing her Master of Social Work degree at Boston University. Her dream job, she said, would be to work in pediatric palliative care in a hospital setting.
“I want to give back, to help children and families navigate the healthcare system, and the school system, after complex medical diagnoses,” she said.
While grants are available in Massachusetts to help pay the costs of adaptations made to a vehicle to accommodate a wheelchair, no grants are available to buy the vans themselves, Ms. Lemire said.
“I don’t have a job right now, so it would be hard to get a loan to buy a van,” she said.
Three weeks ago, Ms. Lemire reached out to the nonprofit organization Help Hope Live, which provided her with a personal campaign page to help fundraise for a new wheelchair-accessible vehicle.
She has raised just over $5,000 so far. Her goal is $50,000.
Using public-accessible transportation is very difficult and unreliable, Ms. Lemire said, especially if she has to be at work at a certain time every day.
“People don’t understand the impact of having a disability,” she said. “We want to be in society like everyone else, but there are a lot of barriers.”
“I would like to get a new van so that when COVID settles and I finish my degree, I will be able to work,” she said.
A new van could cost up to $100,000, but she could get a used one for about half that.
In addition to advocating for herself, Ms. Lemire said she advocates for others with disabilities on a daily basis.
“People don’t realize the impact of something like this. It has a huge impact on your life when you can’t get where you want to go,” she said.
In addition to her campaigns at Help Hope Live (https://helphopelive.org/campaign/18474/) and on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/donate/490923928773397/1022 0404812370447/), Ms. Lemire is dropping off donation jars at local businesses.
Sandwich Community Service Police Officer Brian A. Bondarek is supporting Ms. Lemire’s effort to raise money for her new van.
“That [old] van has been through its paces,” he said. “Whatever we can do to help get her a new one we’ll do.”