Firefighters help transform vandalized van for quadriplegic man

Firefighters help transform vandalized van

PORTLAND, Ore. -- When vandals hit property with graffiti, it forces owners to spend time and money cleaning it up. For one Portland man, time and money are the least of his challenges.

Aaron Svela is a quadriplegic, which means he can't pick up a paint brush. So when someone covered his custom van with graffiti, he thought he’d have to live with it.

“It's a little embarrassing, said Svela. “I try to remember that objects are just objects and people are more important.”

Last summer, Svela attended Camp Arrah Wanna, put on by Portland Firefighters’ Association IAFF Local 43. The camp is for young adults with muscular dystrophy, like Svela, who’s been going to the camp for 10 years.

“When Aaron showed up at camp this year with a van vandalized, I knew we had to do something,” said firefighter Sean Fogarty.

“It was like a kick in the stomach,” said firefighter Owen Cheevers. “Not only was it tagged with awful graffiti, it was dripping off from the rain.”

Cheevers and Fogarty hatched a plan to fix the van.

“Painting it just white seemed really boring,” said Cheevers, noting that Svela was a big science fiction fan.

Fogarty reached out to local mural artist, Pablo Gonzalez.

“I've seen Pablo’s work all over town,” said Fogarty. “He was the first phone call and luckily, he was really interested in doing the project and he gave us an amazing deal.”

The firefighters' union pooled their money and ideas and Gonzalez got to work. Two weeks later, they presented Svela with his new, improved ride.

“There it is buddy!” Fogarty exclaimed as Cheevers pulled the van into the driveway as it sparkled with two giant dragon murals and a rose painted on the hood.

“That's beautiful!” said Svela, smiling ear to ear.

“I'm good with the spray paint,” said Gonzalez with a chuckle. “I’m so happy he likes it.”

“I love it. Thank you, thank you!” Svela said. “It's definitely a piece of art.”

The friends realized their idea to help meant more than just putting paint on a van.

“Putting something positive into the community,” said Gonzalez. “Because somehow, positive things is the only way to go.”

“I think Aaron just deserves something special,” added Fogarty.

While driving the van, Fogarty and Cheevers noticed it needed a new battery. They're raising a little more money to help replace it, and to pay for the van’s maintenance. If you'd like to help, you can donate here

© 2017 KGW-TV


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