Independence and freedom - these are things many of us take for granted as we go through everyday life, but for 14-year-old Upson-Lee High School student Kaitlin Huffman, they often seem elusive and slightly out of reach. However, Randy Dawson, a Thomaston man who was until recently a stranger to the young girl, is determined to change that.
Born at only 27-weeks gestation, Kaitlin suffered a brain bleed that resulted in cerebral palsy that confines her to a wheelchair.
Although Kaitlin does not let that hold her spirit back, it does present challenges for her and her family, with transportation being a tremendous one.
Dawson said his involvement in Kaitlin’s life began when one of her friends looked to him for help.
“I go to church with a little girl who is in a wheelchair. She’s a special little girl; she loves everybody, and she tells them that,” he said. “I took up the money to buy this little girl a wheelchair-accessible van, and we even had enough left over to pay for insurance for a year. Well, she thought if we could do it for her, we could do it for her friend, Kaitlin.”
With that request, Dawson began fund-raising efforts to help Kaitlin, soon having sufficient funds to open an account at the Bank of Upson.
He said he then realized that he should contact Kaitlin’s family and make sure it was all right to move forward with his efforts.
Learning that her mother, Sandra Robinson, occasionally eats breakfast at a local diner, he dropped by and left a message requesting she call him.
“I told her I wanted to know if it would be all right - if I could have permission - to buy her daughter a wheelchair-accessible van,” Dawson recounted. “She just went to crying and said she didn’t think anyone would ever do anything like that for her.”
When asked her reaction to that unexpected phone call, Robinson joyously said, “Hallelujah! Praise God!”
She then went on to describe what a tremendous difference it will make in her little girl’s life.
“It will give her so much more independence because she’ll be able to take her power wheelchair when we go places - she’ll be able drive it up onto the ramp, I’ll raise it up, she’ll move it into the van and we’ll lock her wheelchair into the van the way she does on her school bus,” Robinson said. “Right now, we can’t do that. She weighs about 115 pounds, and I have to lift her up into the van and then put her wheelchair in. I can’t do that with her power chair. This is just going to give her so much more freedom!”
She said Kaitlin understands this community effort will take time, but that she is very excited about the future.
“She’s hoping the sooner, the better,” Robinson said, laughing.
Dawson said regardless of how long it takes, he will not stop working until he meets this family’s need.
“It may take a year, but we aren’t going to give up,” he said. “It may take a year, but we’ll keep on until we get it.”
Dawson said the community will have its first opportunity to support the fund-raising drive at 6 p.m. July 21, when a gospel singing will be held at Storehouse Church, located on Highway 19 North. Tickets are not being sold, but donations are requested.
“People want to give, but they want to know it’s all going to the right place, not just a percentage of it,” Dawson said. “This is that chance. This is all for Kaitlin.”