Tagen Marshall wants new wheels to open more doors.
Marshall, a Parksville resident, is a student at VIU, studying philosophy with a goal of completing a doctorate and becoming a teacher. He also has spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy, which requires 24/7 care.
I was fortunate enough to chat with this inspirational young man in the spring, when he explained how he wanted to be as independent as possible, supporting himself and his many projects.
To that end, those new wheels (in the form of a specialized van, retrofitted for his specific needs) are crucial.
Along with the Berg family (who he lives with full-time) Marshall began fundraising efforts (the van will cost in the neighbourhood of $90,000).
Those efforts continue to climb ever-closer to his goal and Marshall was quick to point out how grateful he has been for the outpouring of support so far.
“We will soon be at $60,000 (through donations and a GoFundMe page),” he said. “We’re close.”
Marshall heads back to school on Sept. 7 and, for now, it looks like he’ll still be using his current van.
“We have the current van still; we can keep going, we can make it work,” he explained, with his usual optimistic tone. “But one of the things that did happen, a few weeks ago the motor for the ramp that allows it to go up and down itself broke, so that’s not ideal. That will cost about $1,000 to get replaced. Our thought process is right now we could put that into it but it’s better to put into a new van. We can lift and do it manually right now. It’s heavy.
“I have transportation, but not for the long term.”
Lauren Berg pointed out how problematic the old van can be.
“My wife and Tagen were stranded this summer during the heat wave,” he said. “(The van) had mechanical issues in Nanaimo and had to wait until I could get there. Peace of mind to get to places is huge.”
The new van they hope to purchase is a Toyota Sienna hybrid (“more cost-efficient in the long run… gas prices are insane,” noted Marshall).
“The hope and goal is to be able to make up that remaining amount sooner rather than later,” he said. “My attention won’t be on fundraising once I get back to school.”
Berg said they have reached out to a variety of auto dealerships and service organizations.
“We’ve talked with a couple of dealerships, just looking for donations and things,” he said. “At this point, none have felt this is something they want to be involved with. We’ve also talked with a couple of service clubs. Knights of Columbus are reconsidering, re-assessing and the Variety Club is more focused on minors rather than adults in situations like this.”
Marshall has the support of a powerful ally – Rick Hansen, known as the ‘Man In Motion’ for his epic 26-month, 34 country, 40,000-kilometre wheelchair trip around the world to make the world inclusive for people with disabilities and to find a cure for paralysis. But Marshall said the Cerebral Palsy Association of B.C. remains more focused on pediatrics and other organizations are strapped for cash after dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic for 18 months.
Despite the usual ups and downs associated with fundraising, Berg remains pleased with the efforts so far.
“We’re overwhelmed with how generous people have been,” he said. “Donations have come in from all over our region, plus the rest of B.C. and Alberta. Some people as far away as Nevada have heard about this and made donations. It’s been pretty exciting.”
Marshall said the new van will help create future opportunities for himself and others.
“It will continue to give avenues into the community,” he said. “It creates more opportunities for future engagements, public speaking. The amazing thing about the donations is it has created another set of people, a community if you will, I get to engage with. A few people with disabilities themselves. I’ve heard some wonderful stories and it’s quite a humbling experience.”
Marshall recounted one of the recent encounters.
“The neatest one is a young family in the Yukon have a daughter with CP as well,” he said. “Talking to them about my experience, seeing how much hope they have for their little girl, is a very humbling, emotional experience for me. To be able to witness that, to have the conversations and ask what would be their dream for their daughter. They have donated multiple times when they can, so I appreciate that and I would definitely be down to meet them in person.”
He pointed out there are several ways to keep up with his progress.
“I’m posting weekly updates for people to the hear ins and outs of my life,” said Marshall. “Thanks to all who have donated and who are considering donating. In these changing times and circumstances, it’s not always the easiest to give to a cause you’re not familiar with. I really appreciate it and everyone who does that. You’re not just funding me, you’re funding opportunities for me to share with others.”
“We’re grateful for the people who have helped us share Tagen’s story,” he said. “He has a chance to open up doors for himself and others. It’s such an eye-opener recognizing how limited the access is for people with disabilities in our community.”