A head-on collision in 2015 left 3-year-old Nariah Szumita paralyzed from the second rib down, limiting her arm and hand movements as well. For a few years after, Nariah was pushed around in a wheelchair, taking some of her remaining freedom away. In kindergarten, Nariah was provided a powerchair that allowed her to move freely under her own will.
The problem, however, was that her parents couldn’t fit the powerchair in their vehicles, so Nariah had to use the collapsible wheelchair once again.
But those struggles of having to leave behind the powerchair are now over for Nariah and her family. Nariah’s one-to-one teaching assistant at Lippitt Elementary, Jaime Kilday, along with non-profit organization Friends of Jake, raised more than $21,000 to donate a handicap-accessible minivan to Nariah and her parents.
On Friday, Kilday led a school-wide assembly talking about kindness. At the end, she told Nariah about the van and handed the keys over to the family. The vehicle could have simply been dropped off, but because of the community’s effort involved in raising this money, Kilday said they should be a part of this presentation, too.
“So many of the faculty and staff gave donations,” Kilday said. “It’s a kindness thing and a teaching moment for our students.”
Kilday added that this donation would not have happened if not for the Friends of Jake and the work they put into the fundraiser. Some members of the non-profit were in attendance on Friday, along with Lippitt Elementary students and faculty and also members of Kilday’s and of Nariah’s families.
“This is absolutely amazing, it really is. It’s nice to see that people still do care about everybody,” Nariah’s father, Cameron Szumita, said. “We’re very appreciative of everybody – Friends of Jake, [Kilday] – everybody did an amazing job over the summer for this. It’s going to help Nariah out a lot.”
Kilday has been Nariah’s teaching assistant at Lippitt since kindergarten and, through the help of the community, found a way to provide for her even further. In September, Kilday teamed up with Friends of Jake, a non-profit organization, who hosted a cook-off at Miller’s Landing in Cranston to raise money for the van. The raffle tickets, entrance fees, silent auctions and donations were enough to raise over $21,000. The total covered the cost of a modified 2016 Dodge Caravan, lift system, paint job, taxes, registration, and a five-year warranty for the vehicle.
“I hate to see anyone where they can’t utilize something to the best of their abilities,” Kilday said.
The van will allow Nariah to enter the vehicle in her powerchair, unlocking opportunities she may not have in the collapsible wheelchair. Before the van, the only place she could travel with the powerchair was to school on a handicap-accessible bus.
Nariah’s mother, Colleen Sawyer, said, “We're super excited. [It’s a] huge improvement for her, for her independence.”