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Go Fund Me, family asks: Hakeneis looks online to raise funds for handicap-accessible van

Kevin Hakeneis and family have developed a GOFUNDME page to raise money for a handicap-accessible van that Hakeneis could drive just using his hands. Jesse Trelstad/Daily Globe

FULDA — From the time he was born, Kevin Hakeneis of Fulda has been defying the odds with a determination to prove he can learn anything and accomplish his goals.

Born six weeks premature with congenital fiber-type disproportion, Kevin spent the first eight months of his life in Neonatal Intensive Care Units in Sioux Falls, S.D. and Minneapolis. He couldn’t breath on his own and, when he finally was cleared to go home, he was still on a ventilator.

“We had 24-hour nursing care and he was critically ill,” writes his mom, Amy. “Day and night, we didn’t know. Would he be alive the next minute?”

Kevin has endured many surgeries in his young life — to expand his femurs and jaw bones, place a feeding tube, repack his intestines and correct his club feet — as well as six of what will be ongoing surgeries to insert rods in his back for severe scoliosis and lordosis.

Now, as he nears his 14th birthday, nearly 80-pound Kevin is like any teenager. He has visions of independence — of getting to school, to the library and to family gatherings without having to rely on a medical transport van to get him to where he wants to go.

But while most kids dream of driving sleek cars or tricked-out trucks, Kevin’s goal is to take driver’s training with a handicap-accessible van transformed to meet his needs.

He’ll need a vehicle with an automatic wheelchair lift, one that will allow him to maneuver into position behind the steering wheel and operate the controls with only his hands. A van like that could cost $70,000 to $80,000 brand new — a price his parents just can’t afford.

Instead, they’re hoping to purchase a used van — one that can be tweaked to meet Kevin’s needs. Still, the price for such a used van will cost more than $40,000 — far more than the Hakeneis family has ever spent on a vehicle.

With family and the community already offering so much to them during these first 14 years of Kevin’s life, Amy said she struggled to come up with a way to help her oldest son.

“Through Kevin’s whole life, everyone has been so kind and generous to us — especially when he was a baby,” she said. “The reality sinks in more and more that there’s just no way we can (raise money for the van) ourselves.

“It gets tough to admit that,” she shared.

Turning to the Internet

Asking others for help is never easy — even if that help may come from anonymous people halfway across the country.

When Amy wrote Kevin’s story and her plea for donations for the online fundraising program, gofundme.com, she still was uncertain it was the route to go. For four months, she asked herself, “Should we? Shouldn’t we?”

She’d already done an extensive search for grant opportunities, and when she learned that most of them can only be awarded to 501(c)3 organizations, she began searching for an organization that could help.

“I bought a book to search for grant money and he just doesn’t fit in anywhere,” Amy said, adding that her son is on straight Medical Assistance and not on waivered care.

It was a friend who ultimately convinced her to take the final step and post the family’s $46,000 request on the website. That was on June 2.

Since then, more than $10,600 has been raised toward the purchase of a van for Kevin. Some donations have come from family and friends, acquaintances and individuals who wish to remain anonymous. Another $3,000-plus in donations have been sent directly to IMED Mobility, the Tea, S.D.-based company from which the Hakeneis’ will purchase the van when they have enough money to do so.

“It’s just absolutely amazing,” said Amy of the donations that have come in thus far. “We’re just so grateful that everyone’s been so supportive. We’re really overwhelmed with how much people have donated.”

The site on gofundme.com (search for Kevin’s Wheelchair Accessible Van or visit gofundme.com/w38g8gsc) will continue to take donations until Sept. 1, two days after Kevin’s 14th birthday.

The hope is to have the funds raised by then to purchase the van, which will be used by Kevin and his caregiver and family whenever he needs or wants to go somewhere.

“He’ll eventually need it to learn to drive and go through driver’s training,” said Amy. “He really wants to drive and be independent some day. He wants to go to college and be on his own, and we want that for him. He’s smart as a whip.”

Anyone willing to donate toward the purchase of the van may do so by searching for the Kevin Hakeneis page on gofundme.com and making an online contribution, or by sending a donation with “Kevin Hakeneis Van” in the memo line of the check, directly to IMED Mobility, Attn: James, 200 E. First St., Tea, S.D. 57064. Donations may also be made in Kevin’s name with a credit card by calling IMED Mobility at (605) 498-2200.

For questions about donating, email james@imedmobility.com. The Hakeneis family is also accepting donations, which will be forwarded to IMED Mobility.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at The Farm Bleat

(507) 376-7330
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