Shanell Villalongo, whose four-year-old daughter Jayln has cerebral palsy, took a year to prove that where there’s a will, there’s a way—and they’ve got the wheelchair van to prove it!
Finding grant money and other funding for big-ticket, special-needs items like wheelchair vans can be a long, daunting process, but the difference it will make in the future of a family is beyond worth it. Villalongo had invaluable help along the way from Joanna Belum, a case manager for the Salem County, New Jersey Department of Health Special Child Services, as they searched for the money and the van.
The two persisted in their exhausting quest, battling through piles of tedious paperwork, rejection, and the unknown to acquire an accessible vehicle so badly needed. As Jayln gets older, her condition will require more equipment, and Villalongo knew their small Suzuki couldn’t accommodate their needs much longer. Because Jayln’s specialist is in Delaware, she can’t use special state public transportation. Tomorrow was looking gloomy.
Yes, it took a year, but their grant-application efforts paid off just recently. Thanks to organizations including Healing the Children New Jersey, Cerner Corporation’s First Hand Foundation, Kingdom Living Ministries International, and $21,000 from an organization that requested anonymity, Villalongo and Belum raised about $23,000 in funding—just enough for a green Dodge Grand Caravan, equipped for Jayln’s needs, from AMS Vans.
When Belum took on Villalongo as a client, she had know idea what she was in for, or that the ordeal would culminate in something so deeply rewarding. The excitement showed in her face as she prepared to give Jayln’s mom the keys to her new “wheels.”
“I’m very happy today,” Belum said. “It’s been a long, pull-your-hair-out of your head process.”
Both women were in unfamiliar territory. Belum recalls, “I told Shanell that I would do everything in my power to help, but I had my doubts,” she said. “I doubted myself. I had never done anything like this before.”
Despite the painstaking work and uncertainty, Belum credits Jalyn’s mom for staying organized and determined, made even more impressive by the fact that Villalongo takes care of her daughter with cerebral palsy, works a job, and attends Salem Community College for a degree.
“Don’t get me wrong, it took a toll,” Villalongo admits. What would she have done if their mission failed? “I don’t know. I would have crossed that bridge when I got there.”
She found a way to do it and acknowledges it wouldn’t have happened without Belum, with whom she bonded under adversity, and they became friends. “I love this woman,”Villalongo said.
AMS Vans is delighted to be part of this story with a very happy ending!