Ready to roll: Community helps local family buy wheelchair van for son

Last modified: Monday, December 21, 2015
*Archive Article*
TURNERS FALLS — Three days after learning the last of the money had been raised to purchase a handicapped-accessible van for her son, Heather Norwood said she’s still speechless.

On Saturday, Our Lady of the Peace Church and Our Lady of Czestochowa Church, along with the Knights of Columbus, held a spaghetti dinner that raised more than $10,000 for the Norwoods. The family has been fundraising since July to buy a wheelchair accessible van for their son, Jacob, who has a rare genetic disorder called FOXG1 syndrome and cannot walk or talk.

“The fact that this was pulled off in four months and that the community supported us and helped us with this ... there aren’t words to describe our appreciation and thankfulness,” Heather Norwood said.

The family is planning to buy a used 2015 van with a new wheelchair conversion as soon as all the checks have cleared, which Heather Norwood said will probably take about three weeks.

She said she doesn’t have any particular plans for where the family will go first, but said they’d like to visit Unity Park if there’s no snow on the ground so that Jacob can use the handicapped-accessible swing there, and are excited about being able to bring him on seemingly mundane trips like grocery or clothes shopping.

“I know that seems like it’s such a small thing, but Jacob hasn’t been inside a grocery store in at least five years,” she said. “He has been very sheltered because of the lack of transportation and now we can go out to eat as a family, we can do grocery shopping, we can take him to Target — small things like that. He can actually go try on his own shoes versus me picking something.”

Heather Norwood said she hasn’t received an official count yet, but Saturday’s spaghetti dinner drew “a lot of people” — so many, in fact, that the first round of people were asked to leave after they’d finished to make room for a second.

“I was not anticipating anywhere near that amount,” she said.

The family has also been raising money online through an organization called HelpHopeLive. Between online donations and fundraisers organized throughout the community, Heather Norwood said they’ve raised just over $44,000, which is the exact amount they need for the van.

“Between the swing project and supporting us with the van and the community’s support with (Great Falls Middle School/Turners Falls High School Assistant Principal) Earl McGraw (who was recently diagnosed with lung cancer) at the same time all of this is going on just shows that we live in an amazing place,” she said. “It’s a community in the truest sense of the word, which is rare.”

You can reach Aviva Luttrell at: 
or 413-772-0261, ext. 268
On Twitter follow: @AvivaLuttrell