On July 28th, 2014, Jennifer Hughes and her daughter, Dakotah, we’re driving back home to Lakeland, Florida after attending a charity fundraiser in New Jersey when a semi collided with a metal box on I-95 and sent the object flying into Jennifer’s van. She and Dakotah were thankfully unharmed, but the van suffered major damages. Now Jennifer is in need of a new van, so with the help of friends and family across the country, she is trying to to make this happen.

Dakotah has Aicardi Syndrome, a rare disorder that affects mostly girls, in which the structure that connects the two sides of the brain (called the corpus callosum) is partly or completely missing. As an infant, she was given a year or two to live, but 16 years later she is proving doctors wrong on a daily basis. She also has two other life-threatening conditions, and the medical bills are considerable. Jennifer is a single mom who works as a teacher in Florida. Her income, despite being considered too high to qualify for financial aid from the state, is barely enough to cover the costs of day to day living. Financing a new van is just not possible. A gofundme page has been set up to help raise $30,000 so that Jennifer can replace the damaged wheelchair van, which has already seen better days and is becoming unsafe both mechanically and because Dakotah’s wheelchair is too wide to comfortably fit on the ramp.

A few weeks ago, a car wash was set up in Lakeland to help raise money for the campaign. Despite the typical Florida storm that rolled through that day, the car wash saw some business and they were able to raise a few hundred dollars. Then, late in September, Jennifer set up a tent outside popular Lakeland wing joint Mojo’s on Biker Night hoping to collect some donations from big-hearted bikers. One person challenged others on Facebook to participate in the Substitute Plan, where participants find one treat a week that they enjoy – be it a coffee, trip to the drive-thru, etc – then to go without it for one day and instead donate that dollar amount to the cause.
Inspired by this, Jennifer is putting $6 in the fund whenever she gets a case of Diet Coke for herself. In addition, she is planning a scrapbook sale and will be helping out with a friend’s Jamberry Nails party, where the commission will go directly to the wheelchair fund.

“I don’t want anyone to think that I’m just sitting around waiting for funding on gofundme. I’m doing as much as I can on the ground here,” says this hard working mom, who does everything she can to ensure that Dakotah’s quality of life can be the very best. This includes being able to transport her to doctor’s appointments as well as getting her out in the world safely.

In just under a month the campaign has raised just over 10% of its goal. The campaign link has been shared by thousands of people across the country, from Florida to California and in between, including a professional skater, and various Facebook groups who all support Jennifer and Dakotah and want to see them get the safe wheelchair van they so desperately need. Several people have embraced the Substitute Plan, others have donated multiple times. One Facebook group full of Walt Disney World enthusiasts who form the Pixie Patrol have taken to sprinkling virtual pixie dust as they make their donations. To help spread the word further, a Thunderclap has been scheduled for September 14th.

The response has been overwhelming for Jennifer, who expressed her gratitude on the gofundme campaign’s page by posting, “I can’t believe how much this has grown, and I have special people to thank for that!”

More information about Jennifer and Dakotah’s fundraising can be found at GoFundMe

Photo by Nathaniel White