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Petley woman presented with accessible van

Tammy Clenche says she has her independence back. Pictured is husband, Tom Clenche, Tammy Clenche, and 10-year-old son, Thomas Jr.
Tammy Clenche says she has her independence back. Pictured is husband, Tom Clenche, Tammy Clenche, and 10-year-old son, Thomas Jr. - Sarah Burton

Lions Club and the community come together to make new vehicle a reality for Tammy Clenche

The Random Lions Club held a reveal celebration on Wednesday, Sept. 12 to present Tammy Clenche’s new accessible van.
The Random Lions Club held a reveal celebration on Wednesday, Sept. 12 to present Tammy Clenche’s new accessible van.

PETLEY, N.L.

NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR

CANADA

They say good things come to those who wait.

For Petley resident Tammy Clenche this holds true as she now has the accessible van she’s needed for years.

Her family unveiled the vehicle on Wednesday, Sept. 12 during a reveal celebration at the Random Lions Club.

The van is a 2017 Dodge Grand Caravan that can accommodate Clenche while seated in her motorized wheelchair.
The 45-year-old wife and mother has spina bifida. As she explains, accessible transportation is already having a positive impact on her quality of life.

“I’m like a kid on Christmas morning,” she said. “Everything is all together. I finally got my independence back. For five years I didn’t get through the door, and now I have this.”

In previous interviews with The Packet, Clenche said she felt isolated from not being able to travel freely. Their two-door Hyundai Accent was unable to accomodate her 330-lb wheelchair, thus discouraging her from running errands or attending activities. Her manual wheelchair, used as an alternative, further limited her mobility and occupied the backseat. Taking it along meant little else could go in the car, including passengers besides their 10-year old son, Thomas Jr.
Now they are able to travel in comfort as a family.

In the last few weeks, they’ve been to St. John’s, Bonavista, and to her hometown of Musgrave Harbour. They were even able to take her parents along with them to Twillingate.

“Thomas says it’s the first time he travelled without luggage in his hands,” laughed Clenche. “Where I only had the two-door car, our luggage would be up around his head and in his hands because of the manual wheelchair.”

She says they’re looking forward to many more family road trips. Clenche can enter and exit her vehicle with ease, and its passenger windows sit at just the right height; making it perfect for absorbing the sights and sounds of Newfoundland.

“It’s everything and more,” she concluded. “I want to give a big thank-you to everyone who made this happen. A very big thank-you.”

Friend and Random Lions volunteer Melanie Pitcher helped initiate the Tammy Clenche Mobility Van Project.

A negative turned positive

The Random Lions Club began the Tammy Clenche Mobility Van Project in 2017, after an online contest failed to award her with an accessible vehicle.

Clenche had entered the 2016 National Mobility Local Heroes Contest and topped the competition with over 57,000 online votes. But despite this success, she was not selected as one of the grand-prize recipients.

Friend and Lions Club volunteer, Melanie Pitcher, was familiar with how Clenche was struggling. She approached the organization with the idea of raising money for a van for Clenche, but in the same breath, was unsure of how they would succeed.
Accessible vehicles can come with a price tag of over $60,000.

“Being in such a small community, it can definitely feel like you’re reaching out to the same people over and over,” says Pitcher. “But I have to say, we’re really proud of our little community. We may be small in number, but we’re very big in determination.”

From there, a series of fundraisers were initiated. Coffee houses, ticket draws, and an online auction were held. There was even a Shave for the Brave type event held at the Random Island Fall Fair.

Other groups pitched in as well, with New Life Church organizing a hot take-out supper. Family and friends of Clenche in Musgrave Harbour also contributed to the cause.

With each event, local businesses and crafters came forward with donated items.

Meanwhile, Clenche and her husband Tom got in touch with AIM Services in St. John’s, which is owned by Lawton’s Drugs.

A representative encouraged the couple to apply to the provincial Accessible Vehicle Funding Program, while they searched for a prospective vehicle.

The Tammy Clenche Mobility Van Project initiated a series of fundraisers, including a hair shaving event at during last year’s Random Island Fall Fair. Pictured is Ben Pitcher of Weybridge.
The Tammy Clenche Mobility Van Project initiated a series of fundraisers, including a hair shaving event at during last year’s Random Island Fall Fair. Pictured is Ben Pitcher of Weybridge.

Terra Nova MHA Colin Holloway also got involved, ensuring the application reached the right people.

In the end, the Clenches were granted a $25,000 subsidy, and the Random Lions Club was able to match that amount with donations.
AIM Services located a 2017 Dodge Grand Caravan outside the province, which had been previously retrofitted with a wheelchair ramp.

Pitcher, like everyone involved, is overjoyed at the outcome.
“It’s a relief,” she said. “It’s been a lot of hard work, but it’s very fulfilling for all of us, and I even get emotional talking about it.”

During the van reveal, she described what it’s been like to see Clenche outside her community, doing everyday things with her family.

“I ran into her at Wal-mart this past week and had to stifle my happy tears at seeing her out and about, living a normal life,” Pitcher said. “It’s so fulfilling to see that we changed someone’s life for the better.”

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