Texas neighbors rally to raise $30K for family needing wheelchair van

AUSTIN (KXAN) — For Austin resident Bene Jacobs, she knows too well the challenges parents have of trying to drive her children to and from school, sports practices and afterschool events. But as the mom of a wheelchair-bound son, there’s an added layer of accessibility issues that complicate everyday transport.

Over the past nine years, she’d been driving the same “soccer mom” van and manually lifting her son, Isaac, in and out of his wheelchair and stowing it in her trunk. Then in April, she was the victim of a hit-and-run car accident that totaled her car.

Now, community members are working to raise $30,000 to help Bene buy a new, wheelchair-accessible vehicle to bring a bit more ease to their daily transport. Melissa Graham, a family friend and longtime neighbor of Jacobs, launched the GoFundMe last week.

“Bene is the type of person — and I said it in my GoFundMe — that if she sees a need, she works to fill that need,” Graham said. “And so I wish more people were like that, you know? And as far as Isaac goes, he’s such a wonderful kid and has such a joy about him and loves wholeheartedly. And I just wish more people were like the both of them.”

Isaac was diagnosed at age 4 with Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, a genetic disorder that has left him wheelchair-dependent. Many traditional vans cost around $30,000; with accessibility enhancements like a wheelchair ramp, that can easily tack on an additional $20,000 to $30,000, Bene said.

“I’m really just initially overwhelmed by their generosity and compassion and all the care and love that they show our family overall,” Bene said, adding: “It’s being able to talk with my neighbors — ‘Isaac’s village,’ as we loving call them after last year — about the struggles and the hardship of being able to secure wheelchair-accessible vehicles.”

With Isaac now 18 years old, Bene said it’s much more difficult to pick him and his wheelchair up for everyday transport. Her hope is a wheelchair-accessible van will remove that physical barrier and keep Isaac more comfortable as she drives him around.

As an extension of the fundraiser, children in Melissa and Bene’s neighborhood hosted a lemonade stand to help raise proceeds. Melissa’s sons, Jacen and Spencer, and their friend Jacen raised $188 to go toward the Jacobs’ new van.

Neighborhood kids helped raise proceeds to go toward Bene and Isaac Jacobs’ new wheelchair-accessible van. (Courtesy: Melissa Graham)

And while “Isaac’s village” might be concentrated in the Jacobs’ neighborhood, Isaac’s influence has extended into the great Austin community.

You might remember Isaac for the viral video from last August, where members from the Austin FC supporter group La Murga de Austin surprised him with a “Happy Birthday” serenade, Last August, La Murga named Isaac an honorary member — and their support for him hasn’t stopped since, as the fan group has promoted the fundraiser to its supporters.

“Isaac is not just an honorary member of la Murga, he is family. His smile, infectious energy and love for fútbol are some of our favorite things about the Verde community,” La Murga member Dani MacKenna said in a statement to KXAN. “We are happy to help out him and his family in any way we can and we encourage y’all to help lessen the burden of an unfortunate situation.”

So often, Bene said many children with disabilities are defined by their conditions in the eyes of others. She said seeing Isaac carve a space for himself in Austin through the fan groups and his love of Austin FC has fulfilled so many of her wishes as a parent.

“As a parent, it’s really encouraging to see others still gravitate towards him, rally around him,” she said. “And for Isaac, I mean, it’s just [people] seeing him for who he truly is and looking beyond that disability aspect.”

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