Ray Duckler: For the Buchholz family, an old van holds the key to a new life

  • The Rev. Canon Hannah Anderson hugs Becky Buchholz after Buchholz received a van Thursday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Nick Lantagne from Ascentria's Good News Garage shows Becky Buchholz how the wheelchair lift operates Thursday after she received the specialty van. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Becky Buchholz straps in her son Kooper before heading out in the van the family received from Ascentria’s Good News Garage Thursday. Buchholz’s daughter Kinley, 4, is the back. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • The Buchholz family heads out for Kooper’s first ride in the van they received from Ascentria’s Good News Garage. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Published: 4/15/2016 2:02:59 AM

The key given to Becky Buchholz on Thursday does more than start a van.
It opens doors leading to self reliance and peace of mind, once locked because Buchholz had no vehicle, no way to get around, no way to ensure the timely care her 6-year-old son, Kooper, needed.

Having a child with special needs, in this case stemming from genetic disorders and autism, that affect mobility, strength and learning means Kooper needs a parental shadow and lots of one-on-one class time.

The family needs to make regular trips to the hospital, doctor and school, both planned and unexpected. Without their own car, they had no way to take care of business unless they called an ambulance, a family member or a taxi. Sometimes they could borrow a car, other times, as occurred recently, Buchholz sprinted 10 minutes down the street, in the rain, to Beaver Meadow School.

Add three other children, one of whom is 4, and Buchholz and her husband have enough on their plates to feed a small country.

“This is like winning the lottery,” said Buchholz, moments after representatives from Ascentria Care Alliance officially made the van hers. “This was never anything I thought we’d ever have.”

The program responsible is called Good News Garage, a nonprofit car donation system celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. It’s part of the Ascentria family.

Donated cars, repaired if needed, then inspected, are given to families who need them most, to do things most of us take for granted. The van, a 2002 Dodge with 69,000 miles, was donated by a woman whose late father had needed its wheelchair-accessible feature.

Magnifying the importance of the van is the fact that the Buchholzes other car is in the shop after a minor traffic accident. And besides, it didn’t have enough room for Kooper’s special chair anyway.

“We do what we have to do to get by,” Buchholz said.

She’s a former insurance company worker who’s devoted her life to raising her children. Kooper has Sotos syndrome and scoliosis. He has epilepsy and autism, and he eats through a feeding tube.

He tires easily, is nonverbal and needs supervision all the time.

“He takes off, so you can’t take any chances in a store,” Buchholz said. “He has to be secured.”

Buchholz has help. Her daughter, 4-year-old Kinley, a feisty little girl who loves soccer, tells strangers, “He doesn’t talk, but he can understand you,” when people say hi, according to Buchholz.

Kadin, the oldest at 15, and his 14-year-old sister, Kylar, work with students with special needs at their schools, Concord High School and Rundlett Middle School. They cook with them in the kitchen, guide them on the basketball court and soccer field and instill confidence when they’re unsettled.

“It stems from wanting their own brother to be engaging in the same things,” Buchholz said. “They are familiar with it, not uncomfortable with people who are different. They are strong around these kids.”

Still, with all the family support involved, with an inclusion program at Beaver Meadow and friends always willing to lend Buchholz their car or give her a ride, relying on others in this fashion wore her down.

Kooper makes regular visits to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon and Concord Hospital. He needs medication. He has seizures.

Once, Kooper unexpectedly needed a ride to Concord Hospital, so an ambulance was called. Another time, Kooper got sick at school, leading to an emergency call to his mother. Luckily, the Buchholzes are a 10-minute walk from Beaver Meadow.

Unluckily, that meant Buchholz had to sprint to the school, little Kinley in tow.

“Once I got there, I got my breath, grabbed my son and then wheeled him home,” Buchholz said. “Those are the little things people take for granted every day, driving somewhere to take care of something important. So this van is life-changing for me.”

It’s green, a little dusty, but to Buchholz, it’s a Rolls Royce. Two side doors swing open, revealing a spacious area in front of a bench that seats three. Now, this family of six can ride together.

At the Ascentria office Thursday, the Rev. Hannah Anderson, an Ascentria board member, led the key-giving ceremony, saying, “You are the new owner.”

Buchholz wiped tears from beneath her glasses, then Susan Swain, Ascentria’s regional marketing director, handed Buchholz a goodie bag, with an ice scraper, flashlight, travel mug, jumper cables and lunch boxes for the kids.

“I feel blessed right now,” Buchholz said.

Nick Lantagne, the vehicle processor, showed Buchholz how to use the ramp, which, with a step-by-step flick of a button, unfolds into a platform in front of the double doors, then moves forward and down, coming to rest flat on the pavement.

Later, with the van in the driveway, Buchholz and Kinley waited in front of their house for Kooper to get home from school. A small yellow bus pulled up at 2:25 p.m.

Kooper, shy at first as a stranger clicked a camera and another scribbled onto a notepad, moved into the van and was secured into his chair, Kinley buckled into the seat way in the back.

“Want to go for a ride?” Buchholz asked.

“He wants to go right now,” Kinley answered for her brother.

Buchholz climbed into the driver’s seat, her feet barely reaching the pedals, backed up cautiously, then rolled down the driveway and disappeared down the street.

They passed Kooper’s school in just a few seconds.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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