Mother of special-needs son needs a reliable car

·4 min read

Natalie Fowler provided her civic address number, but her description of their modest bungalow, including the slightly inclined wheelchair ramp, was enough to quickly find the Canterbury home where she lives with her two teenage sons.

As I pulled in and parked next to the aging Nissan Maxima in her driveway, Natalie greeted me with a broad smile from the home's back deck, where the ramp leads. We sit on the deck to enjoy her and Mother Nature's warmth.

At first, Natalie was reluctant to talk about her family's challenges, including her need to replace the now unroadworthy Nissan and the GoFundMe, which brought her family to the River Valley Sun's attention.

"I don't want to sound needy," she said, praising the kindness and support from her friends, community and Canterbury High School.

But when the conversation turned to her boys, 15-year-old Jace Andrew and his devoted older brother Jaden, Natalie spoke proudly, enthusiastically and lovingly.

After all, those are the sons Natalie often told her childhood friend Penny Shepard she "loves to the moon and back."

Despite Natalie's reluctance, Shepard, who lives in B.C., launched the GoFundMe when she heard her friend's car was beyond repair. It left Natalie and especially Jace Andrew without transportation.

Since birth, Jace Andrew faced an uphill battle much steeper than the ramp leading to his home. Born autistic, with cerebral policy and legally blind, Jace Andrew makes a habit of surpassing expectations.

"It sounds overwhelming," said Natalie, "but when I get down to it, he's my personal hero."

Doctors told Natalie Jace Andrew would never speak. Instead, he talks incessantly. She described Jace's close relationship with his older brother Jaden and their penchant for joking.

"They're total comedians," Natalie said.

Jace Andrew, who will enter Grade 10 at Canterbury High School this year, loves school, conveniently situated across the street. Natalie praised the efforts of resource staff, teachers and students to befriend Jace and meet his needs.

She also praised the village residents' kindness, mentioning Mayor Tanya Cloutier's special attention. With Jace Andrew not comfortable around the Christmas party atmosphere, the village mayor and school make sure Mr. and Mrs. Claus visit the family.

The feelings are mutual from Cloutier's perspective.

"Natalie is a wonderful mom who works tirelessly for her two kids every day," she said. "We know that although not every day is easy, she faces each day with a smile and never gives up. Her children are her life."

The mayor also praised the school.

"CHS has the best T.A.'s who work with Jace, and you can tell the care they have with him," she said. "It's truly heartwarming."

Natalie said Jace Andrew misses school in the summer, which is even worse this year as they're left without a car.

"He's so bored right now. We can't go anywhere," Natalie said.

Explaining Jace Andrew is a person of routine, and one of his great joys is going for a ride with his Mom and singing along with the music.

Shepard, understanding the importance of the car to her friend's family, started the GoFundMe account despite Natalie's hesitation. She knew they needed the car, not only for Jace but for shopping runs and to get to his many medical appointments.

Shepard said their friendship dates back to Grade 5 when she moved to Okanagan, B.C., and Natalie was the first to befriend the new kid.

"We became fast friends, and we were inseparable for quite a few years," she said. "In high school, we hung out together in the same crowd of friends."

The best friends lost touch after high school when Shepard headed to Alberta and Natalie moved to the Maritimes. They reconnected over Facebook.

"I loved to read her posts about her family and the voice she has for championing autistic children."

Shepard made her admiration for her friend clear to the River Valley Sun.

"If you could include what a hero Natalie is," she said. "She never reached out for help. She never broke down."

The GoFundMe account. "Special Needs Mom Needs A Safe Ride!" has raised $3,400 of the $7,000 goal.

Natalie expressed her deep appreciation to everyone who donated. She explained she's looking only for a reliable used car, preferably with a hatchback to hold Jace Andrew's wheelchair.

"I can't afford to be picky," she said.

Cloutier urges people to help Natalie and her two boys.

"My motto is 'it takes a village,' and I stand by that," said the mayor.

Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun