Local family gets handicapped-accessible van with help of fundraiser

Cathy Behof lifts her 18-year-old son, Andrew, into the family minivan Wednesday as she takes him to therapy in Cary. Andrew Behof suffers from blindness, cerebral palsy and a seizure disorder.
Cathy Behof lifts her 18-year-old son, Andrew, into the family minivan Wednesday as she takes him to therapy in Cary. Andrew Behof suffers from blindness, cerebral palsy and a seizure disorder.

CARY – As Cathy Behof prepares to take her son, Andrew, to physical and occupational therapy in Crystal Lake, she pushes his wheelchair down a ramp in front of the house and to the family’s 2000 Dodge Grand Caravan.

Cathy Behof then scoops up the 105-pound Andrew, and with the help of her 12-year-old daughter, Heather, positions him into his seat in the van. Cathy and Heather Behof then have to lift the 100-pound wheelchair into the back of the van and position it so it fits.

The labor-intensive process of getting Andrew, who has cerebral palsy, a seizure disorder and is blind, into the van is set to come to an end within a week-and-a-half.

With the help of Eitel Heinemann Mechanical Services in Buffalo Grove, which employs Cathy’s husband, Bob, the family is about to get a new van that has a built-in ramp.

Paul Gurak, the service manager at EHMS and Bob Behof’s supervisor, coordinated fundraising efforts to buy a van for the Behof family.

At the beginning of last year, Gurak asked his employees to write down their professional and personal goals. When Gurak found out about Bob’s desire to get a handicapped-accessible van, he went to the company ownership with the idea.

“Our company likes to do charity work in the community, and here we had an individual in our company that could use our help,” Gurak said.

So Gurak helped coordinate an online fundraiser through Touchmyheart-usa.org, which included having a videographer come in to produce a piece with interviews showing the need for a handicapped-accessible van.

“It means a ton to us,” said Bob Behof, who is a service mechanic.

With the help of some donors who gave large donations, a grant from the state, and employees making contributions, the company was able to raise the $46,600 needed for a 2013 Dodge Grand Caravan with a ramp installed.

It will allow Andrew to roll in and out of the minivan. The heavy-duty ramp also will easily fold up into the vehicle.

Without the van with the special ramp, whenever Behof family wants to go somewhere, they have to weigh whether it is worth the physical toll of carrying Andrew in and out of the van, as well as his 100-pound wheelchair. Bad weather makes going out even harder.

“Depending on what we’re doing, it’s a matter of allowing extra planning ahead, because you have to plan for extra time for him to get out of the house, out of the chair, into the car, get the chair into the car,” Cathy Behof said. “If we’re going for shopping trips, we have to try to plan it, because it’s hard to get him in and out. If we do go out, you try to make as little [stops] as possible, because of the amount of time it takes.”

Cathy Behof, who works as special education paraprofessional at Deer Path School in Cary, and as a cashier at Target in Crystal Lake, has even strained her back moving Andrew.

Now the family expects to have a little more flexibility and freedom to do more activities, go more places, and even take family trips, such as going to Wisconsin or Michigan for a weekend.

Andrew, who graduated from Cary-Grove High School last year, has a list of places he wants to go and visit.

“I could go shopping and to the mall,” Andrew Behof said. “I could go out to eat and go to the movies.”

Heather also will have an easier time doing the activities she wants to do as she gets older and goes into high school.

“We’re going to hold onto this van for a long time,” Bob Behof said.

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