When Kelso High School teacher Rick Davis published a GoFundMe campaign page for fellow teacher John Janke, he expected it to get a little attention, but not much.
The page sought to raise $20,000 for a new motorized wheelchair for Janke, who has cerebral palsy and relies on the use of his motorized wheelchair to travel everywhere.
“I was thinking $20,000 was a pretty lofty goal,” Davis said Tuesday afternoon. But by the time he went to bed at 11 p.m. Monday night, the page had already raised $18,000. By Tuesday afternoon, 24 hours after the campaign had gone live, the page had raised more than $24,000.
The money will go toward purchasing a new motorized chair for Janke, Davis said. The chair will cost between $15,000 and $20,000. And additional funds raised will be set aside for repairs, Davis said.
Janke said the engine for his wheelchair broke down almost a month ago, and the repair cost him $2,100. But the chair has been unreliable and he needs a new one, partly because his new insurance policy will not cover repairs if the machine is used outside his home. Though his palsy doesn’t prevent him from standing, the chair is his main mode of transportation. He uses it to get to and from school every day, among his other daily errands.
“I never could drive a car,” Janke said. When Janke was in his 30s, doctors recommended an motorized chair to travel longer distances.
“As I grow older, the chair becomes a very necessary part of who I am,” Janke said. “Most people know who I am throughout the two towns because everywhere I am, I’m with the chair.”
According to the GoFundMe page, donations were coming in an average of three to five minutes apart Tuesday afternoon. On the site, donors can post messages along with their contribution.
“Your courage has always been an inspiration to me both personally and professionally,” wrote donor Eric Christensen.
“One of the best teachers I’ve had. Independent and so giving,” wrote Erin Malave.
“It’s been humbling, surreal, embarrassing − all those descriptors,” Davis said of the responses and attention he’s received. “It speaks to the community we live in, I couldn’t be prouder.”
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Janke was born and raised in Longview and was a graduate of R.A. Long High School in 1979. He was one of the first “mainstreamed” students with cerebral palsy in the district, which meant that he attended regular classes, as opposed to special educationclasses. Not all individuals with cerebral palsy have intellectual disabilities, though they were often treated that way.
“They refused to put (students with cerebral palsy) in the school,” Janke said. “My mother, through her determination, made sure I got put into a regular classroom. It was a lot different back then.”
Janke said he was accompanied on his journey as a “mainstreamed” student with his friend Steve McCoy, who also has cerebral palsy. McCoy, a 1978 graduate of R.A. Long, went on to work at Columbia Ford in Longview and coach Babe Ruth baseball.
“They didn’t know what to do with us, so we wound up teaching our teachers,” Janke said. “We were sort of bold pioneers.”
Janke is now three decades into his teaching career, and has substituted at Kelso High School for 25 years. He also lives with and cares for his mother, who fought so valiantly for him the have the same opportunities as others.
“Between my mother’s income and mine, we make do, but when we have expenses like (the wheelchair) we have to tighten our belts,” Janke said.
Davis said he bumped the fundraising goal to $30,000 Tuesday morning. They’ll likely reach that goal soon, too.
Davis and Janke said there might even be enough money to buy a smaller chair to use at the high school, in order to take the pressure off of Janke’s regular one.
“It just shows me that my hard work over the years pays rewards,” Janke said. “People don’t donate unless they think it’s a great cause, so I’m overwhelmed to have that response.”
Donations to the fundraiser can be made at the “Wheels for Janke” page: http://bit.ly/2n5cqIa.