Dickinson staff, pupils work to buy special van
April 10, 2001
By MAGGIE SOOS
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 21, Karen Brandy-Comer has spent more than half of her life coping with the pain of muscle deterioration.
But her positive attitude and mental toughness won't let the disease defeat her, her friends say. Brandy-Comer earned her degree in English and music, and is now a permanent substitute teacher and choir director at Dickinson Middle School.
But Brandy-Comer, 44, is confined to a wheelchair and faces transportation problems daily, because she doesn't own a wheelchair-accessible van.
Over the past year, teachers and staff at Dickinson Middle School have held various fund-raisers in an effort to buy Brandy-Comer a van. They are just over halfway to their goal of $20,000.
"She has the inconvenience of having to call Transpo Access every single day, and tell them where she'll need a ride two weeks from the day she's calling,'' Markouhi Oxian, a counselor at Dickinson and Clay middle schools, said. "She's already very independent within her restrictions, and having the van will allow her to be even more independent.''
Along with Oxian, counselor Sherry Bolden-Simpson and special education teacher Howard Edwards have spearheaded a year's worth of fund-raising. So far they have raised $13,000 with events ranging from staff-vs.-student volleyball and basketball games to bake sales and barbecue chicken sales.
The most recent of these events was a Port-a-Pit chicken sale and a "pie-in-the-face'' contest at school. The chicken sale raised about $600 and although the "pie-in-the-face'' contest netted only $60, it was a fun way to get students involved.
"Students could buy tickets and put their names in a jug to win a chance to push a pie in a teacher's face,'' Oxian said. "About 12 teachers volunteered and those who got the most tickets sat in front of the student body, covered in plastic, and had pies pushed in their faces.''
Along with these fund-raisers, the committee also has also asked for donations from churches, businesses and individuals. For each donation received, a construction paper van containing the donor's name is placed on Dickinson's "Honor Roll of Donors'' wall.
Teachers are now visiting with local van dealerships with hopes of finding a good deal. In the meantime, the fund-raising will continue.
"If it doesn't work out now, the committee will get together, and we'll continue to brainstorm to figure out what else to do,'' Oxian said. "It's been a long process, but we've come a long way in a year. We'll keep raising money, and by hook or by crook, we'll get her a van.''
Anyone interested in donating to this cause can send their donations to the Karen Comer Van Fund, c/o Dickinson Middle School, 4404 Elwood, South Bend, IN 46628. Donations also are accepted at any 1st Source Bank.