A junior kindergarten student at Salem Public School was given the greatest gift his family could have received this December: a fully-funded wheelchair.
Colton Timbers, 4, started junior kindergarten this September, but his parents weren’t convinced it was a good idea.
“We weren’t sure if we were going to put Colton into school or not because you know he’s still itty-bitty and we weren’t sure how the kids were going to react to him, and … we’re over protective of our baby,” said Natalie Timbers, Colton’s mom.
Colton has Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, which is the partial deletion of the fourth chromosome, and means he has low muscle tone. He is also non-verbal and experiences seizures.
Before Colton started school, his parents made the decision to save their money and purchase a walker.
“At that time our main … priority was to get him walking, because we want to try to get him to be as independent as possible,” Natalie said.
However, once Colton began school it became evident that a wheelchair was needed.
On the bus he had to be strapped into a baby car seat because of his size but Natalie said a wheelchair would allow him to sit with his peers and it was safer.
Though the Timbers applied for funding, nothing came through – until Salem Public School and the Upper Grand District School Board stepped in.
When Colton’s classroom partners – kindergarten teacher Tessa Heffernan, early childhood educator Holly Diljee, educational assistant Trudy Matusinec and school principal Kathy Gossling-Spears – heard the Timbers didn’t receive any funding for the wheelchair, they stepped in to help.
“Colton is very important to us, as is his family, and we established a connection right away,” Heffernan said.
“So as soon as we heard that there was this need for funding, we knew we wanted to do something … and we brought it to the kids then to ask them to brainstorm what it was that they wanted to do.”
Colton’s kindergarten class, consisting of 29 students in both junior and senior levels, brainstormed 12 to 15 different options. Winning out were the Rice Krispy square and playdough sales. Students, teachers and parents then set about gathering supplies, many donated by families, and making all the Rice Krispy squares and playdough.
The sale was held on Nov. 28 and 29 and the kindergarten class raised $1,000 through the generosity of the community.
“I think he’s touched so many in this community that people were just coming in with money from their piggy banks and buying something and then donating,” Matusinec said.
She added some Grade 6 students brought in $20 for one Rice Krispy square and one Grade 6 brought in $40.
Right before the sale, the school was told the Upper Grand Learning Foundation’s Free to Achieve fund would cover the entire cost of Colton’s wheelchair.
“We thought well, we want to continue on with (the fundraiser) and we want to give back and essentially buy a piece of the wheelchair then for Colton,” Heffernan said.
“So, we said all of the funds that we made would be donated back into that fund … so that we were paying towards the wheelchair for Colton.”
Natalie said she was just “floored” by the outpouring of support by the community and the school board. She said the wheel chair cost more than $4,000.
“It was unbelievable,” Natalie said. “It was like the greatest gift that we could ever receive.
“Having a special needs child is not cheap whatsoever, and so this was a great gift for us and for Colton.”
After the sale Heffernan said she asked the students why it was important for them to be involved.
“Kids were saying things like, ‘Because Colton’s important to us and he’s special,’ ‘Because we want to help him,’ ‘Because we want him to have the same opportunities that we do,’” Heffernan said.
“So, they really understood the reason behind why they were doing those things.”
Colton has had the wheelchair for just two weeks, but Natalie said he loves it.
“I think he likes it too because all the kids are getting excited too, so then he gets more excited about it,” she said.
All of the staff members commended the school community for its support.
“I, as the principal, am just so proud of the community and the staff and the students and all the families,” Gossling-Spears said.
“I mean it’s just a beautiful thing, it really is.”
Heffernan said it’s important to foster this kind of giving at a young age.
“You know we have three and four and five-year-olds but they are capable of something huge,” she said.
“And that to me, when we can start young to build that sense of community, that sense of kindness, I think is such an important message that we can pass on to our kids.”