- Associated Press - Saturday, March 4, 2017

FISHER, Ill. (AP) - The past few weeks have been a whirlwind for RaeAnne Lindsey.

“It’s still sinking in,” said the 27-year-old from Fisher, who got her driver’s license (for the first time), a new van and her first job offer, all within a three-week period.

“I think I’m still in a little shock,” said the 2016 University of Illinois communications graduate, who couldn’t imagine this moment last summer when she found out she didn’t win a national online contest for a wheelchair-accessible van, a hefty expense her family couldn’t afford on its own.

RaeAnne’s dream had been to replace her family’s blue wheelchair-accessible van with 200,000 miles on the odometer with one she could modify, allowing her to drive it.

At 10 months old, she was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, the virus that attacks the nervous system, leaving RaeAnne with limited movement and strength.

After she was first profiled last June, The News-Gazette heard from several readers asking how they could help. And the community’s generosity didn’t end there.

Around the holidays, a group of Fisher residents organized a fundraising drive to help one of their own afford a van that would make her life easier. Within weeks, they raised $20,000.

Then, as RaeAnne and others were brainstorming new ways to raise money, she got a phone call.

The secretary for Peter Fox, the Champaign businessman who owns more than 25 Jimmy John’s franchises, tracked her down and arranged an interview for her with managers at the I Hotel.

That led to a job that she’ll start next week - working the front desk, answering phones, working with the public, doing some computer work, scheduling, “whatever needs to be done,” she said.

A few days later, RaeAnne was summoned to Fisher High School, where her father Bob teaches social studies. Waiting for her were Fisher Mayor Milt Kelly, who helped spearhead the fundraising effort, and Mike Estes, president of Fisher National Bank.

They presented her with a $50,000 check from an anonymous donor. Later, she found out who wrote it - Champaign sandwich king Jimmy John Liautaud.

With that and the $20,000 she’d received earlier, she had the $70,000 she needed to buy the van of her dreams. It’s pearl-colored - and “sparkly,” RaeAnne said, “so I’m good.”

“I’m really, really grateful. I never expected to get a job offer. I never expected to get a huge donation to get the van, so I’m very grateful. I’m excited about all of it. I feel very loved,” said RaeAnn, who has read some of the letters that accompanied the many donations she’s received.

Some simply stated that they wanted to help. Others told her that her story resonated with them. One local woman wrote that the virus that affected RaeAnne also affected her husband.

“That was pretty cool,” she said.

On Thursday, RaeAnne completed several hours of training, learning how to drive a van solely by hand controls. It ended with her being handed her temporary driver’s license.

The real one will come in the mail in a few weeks.

Her new van must still be equipped with the hand controls, which she will pay for with a grant through the state of Illinois.

“It was a lot of fun,” she said of her driver training. “It was very tiring. I have to think about a bunch of different things. I use both of my hands, and I have to be in the moment.”

This week, RaeAnne will throw all of her concentration into her new job.

“I’m very excited, and I’m honored to be able to be part of it, to be given the opportunity,” said RaeAnne, adding that she believes the position is a good fit for her. “I’m a really big people person, and I like being organized, so I’m really excited.”

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Source: The (Champaign) News-Gazette: https://bit.ly/2lIY51X

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Information from: The News-Gazette, https://www.news-gazette.com


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