Max Lewis is paralyzed from the neck down, but he should have a lot less trouble getting around town now.
On Monday morning, Lewis was presented a fully modified, handicapped- accessible Ford E-150 van, which was paid for in part by donations
from friends, family and community members.
Those people, all of whom could tell a story about how Lewis has touched or inspired their lives, gathered for the presentation outside the Ford showroom at Joe Machens Ford in Columbia.
“Max never would have asked for something like this. It’s just not who he is,” said Darrin Young, a close childhood friend of Lewis’. “But as friends, you have to see the need and act on it.”
The old white van that Lewis acquired around 1994 sat abandoned around the corner as Lewis maneuvered his electronic wheelchair onto the lift of his new blue van. He grinned as he was raised above the crowd and backed into the van, which has a working radio and heater and a lowered floor so he can see out the windows.
“I’m going places,” he said as the crowd applauded.
The process of getting the van began a little more than a year ago in Shakespeare’s Pizza downtown, said Tom May, another of Lewis’ childhood friends. Five of Lewis’ closest friends sat around a table and decided to do something about the deteriorated state of the van Lewis used. He needed to get to Sedalia to visit his family and to Jefferson City to lobby for government programs that could help him gain financial independence, but every day they wondered if his van would even start.
With the help of the Midwest Special Needs Trust, May said, the friends established a trust fund to raise money to buy a new wheelchair-accessible van for Lewis without risking his Medicaid benefits.
The first $1,000 was raised at a garage sale in October 2006. Other events included a poker tournament, scrapbooking parties and dinner gatherings.
By Monday, there was about $33,000 in the trust fund. Young, one of the five trustees, said that after paying for a few remaining modifications to the van, there will still be about $30,000 left for Lewis to use for living expenses, dental work, insurance payments and travel expenses.
One trip Lewis has already started making plans for is a drive with his good friend Young and Young’s father through Glacier National Park in Montana and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.
“Every year, my father and I take a trip somewhere for Father’s Day,” Young said. “Max has always been like a son to my father, but he’s never been able to come along — until now.”