Surprise presentation: Ben Strong Foundation donates van to Shawnee family

Elisabeth Slay
From left to right Dashon Caldwell Jones, Ben Simpson, Rufus Caldwell Jones, Felicia Caldwell Jones, Shabree Caldwell Jones, Leaja Caldwell Jones, Amynah Caldwell Jones and Nyelay Caldwell Jones in front of the handicap accessible van the Ben Strong Foundation donated to the family Wednesday in Shawnee.

It was quite the surprise for the Caldwell Jones family as they left SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital-Shawnee after their physical therapy appointment Wednesday and there in the parking lot was their new handicap accessible van donated by the Ben Strong Foundation.

According to grandmother Felicia Caldwell Jones, she and her husband Rufus took in their five grandchildren, Dashon,15, Shabree,14, Leaja,12, Amynah,11 and Nyelay,10 in August of 2018 and adopted them in February of 2019.

Felicia said Dashon has Muscular Dystrophy and Shabree has Cerebral Palsy and she is very grateful because the van will allow her, Rufus and their grandchildren to travel together.

"It feels great. (It's) life changing for us. Now we get to go places as a family. (I) just was not expecting it," Felicia said during the surprise presentation.. "They're thriving and they have been since they came with us. This is just magical."

For Dashon, having this van is a dream come true and he said he's excited to go to several different places.

"It's surprising. I love it. (I'll go) to the mall because I can get more football gear," Dashon said.

Like her brother, Shabree said she was also excited to see their new van and she can't wait to go to one of her favorite places with her family.

"I feel so happy. I didn't know we were going to get it today. We can go anywhere now. I would say (I want to go to) Chili's. It's my favorite restaurant," Shabree said.

According to Dashon and Shabree's physical therapist Aaron Hayes, before receiving the van, the family had to use a pick up to travel and they had to take the children to their appointments one at a time.

After expressing her concern, Hayes encouraged Felicia and the family to make a video and reach out to the community for help.

"So we made that video and started a GoFundMe and tried to spread it on social media as much as we could and people shared it on their Facebook and people at the clinic started to give too," Hayes said.

The psychical therapist said it was through social media that the Ben Strong Foundation became aware and decided to donate the van.

According to Ben Strong Foundation Board Member Ben Simpson, about a month ago the organization purchased a handicap accessible van and a week and a half after buying it they decided to give it to the Caldwell Jones family.

"Immediately it was a unanimous vote that we wanted to help them. We had the van and the opportunity presented itself," Simpson said. "As the Ben Strong Foundation we help people."

Simpson explained the van is big enough to hold all seven family members and Dashon and Shabree's wheelchairs.

"On these vans ...they lower the floor which allows the head room to where you can stay in your wheelchair when you get in and out of the vehicle," Simpson said. "Then they put a ramp on it so you can ride right up into the vehicle. There's also lock downs that allow you to lock the wheelchairs into place."

For Rufus, Dashon and Shabree's grandfather, the van will make things easier for him as he takes his grandchildren places they need to be and want to go.

"I feel great. I think it's one of the nicest things in the world to happen to me," Rufus said.

After the surprise reveal and thanking all who made the donation possible, Felicia said the family was going to celebrate at Chili's giving Shabree the opportunity to go to her favorite restaurant with its "awesome food."

For more information or to make a donation to the Ben Strong Foundation visit