Teens Repair Van of Wheelchair-Bound Grandfather (With Photo Gallery)

May 25, 2012 Updated May 25, 2012 at 11:44 AM EDT

By WKBW News

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Teens Repair Van of Wheelchair-Bound Grandfather (With Photo Gallery)

May 25, 2012 Updated May 25, 2012 at 11:44 AM EDT

(WKBW release) After a motorcycle accident, Scott Sullivan was paralyzed. Twenty-five years later, he's still striving for independence.

According to a news release:

Eight months ago, he canceled his home health care aide service and this spring he completed his second 5k run using his wheelchair. To get around town and to enjoy his favorite pastime of camping, Sullivan relies on a generous gift from his father and stepmother – a gray, 2001 Dodge Ram van that was outfitted with a wheelchair lift, power seat and dashboard controls. His van, while in good mechanical condition, had considerable rust damage due to the harsh winters in western New York.  

Teens in the Auto Collision Repair program at Erie 1 BOCES Harkness Career & Technical Center and their instructor, Robert Verso, wanted to help preserve the body of Sullivan's van. Two classes, a morning class of high school seniors and an afternoon class of juniors, repaired and repainted the body of the vehicle this May. To do that they used automotive paint that was donated by Urban Paint and PPG Automotive Industries.  

"My cousin knows Scott through his work with Venture Forthe," said Verso. "When he approached me about the need, I saw it as an opportunity for students to gain experience while also providing a lesson on community outreach."

Richard Stachnik, Verso's cousin and a community integration counselor for Venture Forthe, Inc., has grown very fond of Sullivan during their eight years of working together. Stachnik visits Sullivan's home once a week to help him overcome the challenges he encounters from a traumatic brain injury.

"Scott's fiercely independent. He takes pride in being independent. But at this moment in time, a replacement vehicle is simply not possible," said Stachnik.

It has been estimated that a replacement van would cost $30,000 to $40,000.

"Before the accident Scott was a mechanic, so he has been really good about getting oil changes and knowing when to take it into his mechanic," continued Stachnik. "Having his van re-painted is a life-saver. With the body taken care of we hope that this van will last another 10 years. It will really help him maintain his quality of life."

Sullivan, now a grandfather, studied auto mechanics with Orleans-Niagara BOCES when he was in high school.

"I really liked the program, I received all A's in that class and in art and mechanical drawing," said Sullivan with pride.

When Sullivan isn't spending time camping with his family, he tends to his potted-vegetables, draws and creates artwork – many times using recycled material. He admits that being without his van for three weeks will be tough but he's ready.

"I went to Aldi's and stacked up on groceries before they took away my van," said Sullivan.

When Sullivan first heard about this opportunity he was skeptical, but as he watched Verso leave with his van it all became real. He couldn't wait to see it completed and to meet the students.

On Thursday, May 24 the students chanted "Move that van," as Sullivan anxiously awaited. The auto shop's bay door lifted and the van, driven by Verso, slowly rolled out. Sullivan was astounded by the quality of work the students completed.

"Wow, it looks as good as new," said Sullivan.

"I painted the back of the van," commented Brandy, a junior in the Auto Collision Repair program.

In addition to the body repair and painting, the BOCES class was able to replace the bumper and also detail the interior of the van.

"I know that this van is really a part of his life," said Verso. "We put our best foot forward and it was a great project to work on."