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Everyday Heroes: Have wheels, will travel

Chad Ledson helps his daughter Hannah to their new wheelchair-accessible minivan.

The way Lisa Ledson talks about her new vehicle, you might think she got a Porsche or Ferrari.

“I feel like we won this really cool lottery,” Lisa said. “There’s nothing stopping us now.”

But Lisa’s new vehicle isn’t a sporty roadster, it’s a minivan -- a wheelchair-accessible minivan that she said has changed her life.

Her daughter, Hannah, has spastic cerebral palsy and needs a wheelchair or walker to get around.

Lisa told KATU before getting the van, it could take up to 45 minutes to load both Hannah and her gear into their old Chevy Suburban.

“Something as simple as going to the grocery store was very, very challenging,” Lisa said.

Not only was the process of going anywhere physically taxing for Lisa and her husband, it meant a lot of weekends at home for Hannah and her twin sister Kate.

“Kate got a lot of mommy and daddy saying, ‘We just can’t do that. We can’t get Hannah there,’” Lisa said. “And that was really heartbreaking to watch.”

As Hannah and Kate grew (they’re four years old now), Lisa started looking into what a wheelchair-accessible van would cost.

She said she started sobbing at the dealership when she saw the sticker in the window.

“I’ve never owned a $52,000 car before in my life,” Lisa said. “I don’t know how to come up with that. How do you even get financed for something like that?”

Enter The Steelman Family Foundation

The dealership told Lisa that grants existed to help families pay for wheelchair-accessible vans.

“I went home immediately that night and started writing letters begging to please help us,” Lisa said.

Several organizations responded, included René Steelman with The Steelman Family Foundation.

René also has a child in a wheelchair: her son TJ.

“Any of you that have children in car seats, imagine doing that for the rest of your life,” René said.

She added that TJ was 13 before she and her husband could afford a wheelchair-accessible van. The day they could finally afford it, she said, was the best day of her life.

“So we made it our mission that we would help other families if there ever came a time that we could,” René said. “And when my husband retired last fall, this was our new adventure.”

René said The Steelman Family Foundation is an all-volunteer effort -- and she’s the only volunteer. She spends at least 30 hours a week trying to raise as much money as possible to help families afford the vehicles they need.

Over the past year, she said, the foundation has helped 10 families buy wheelchair-accessible vans.

To help out, visit The Steelman Family Foundation website.

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