Source: Sherman Publications

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Auto shop helps keep family in need moving

by CJ Carnacchio

November 09, 2011

Joe Grusling (far right), owner of the Fix-N-Go Auto Center in Oxford Township, watches as Pontiac resident Laurie Rougeau uses her new van’s electric wheelchair lift to place her disabled daughter Diamond, 18, inside the vehicle. Grusling donated approximately $2,000 to $2,200 worth of labor and parts — which included rebuilding the transmission — to get the donated van running for this family in need. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio.
It's the type of story that both breaks and warms the heart.

It's also a story with a happy ending thanks in large part to a caring Oxford business.

Pontiac resident Laurie Rougeau is now the proud owner of a functional 1999 Chevy van complete with a working electric wheelchair lift to help transport Diamond, her severely disabled 18-year-old daughter.

"I fought and fought to get this van," Rougeau said. "I could not give up on her. She deserves this. She's my princess. She's my baby. I love her."

The used van was donated by Progressive Lifestyles, a company that operates residential facilities for the mentally disabled, and repaired, free of charge, by the Fix-N-Go Auto Center (1661 N. Lapeer Rd.) in Oxford Township. The nonprofit Macomb-Oakland Regional Center (MORC) helped connect Rougeau with the van.

"It makes me feel good like somebody really cares about us," Rougeau said. "They didn't have to do this, they really didn't . . . I'm so happy and I'm so grateful and I'm so humbled that they came together and did what they did for my daughter."

"It's an opportunity for us to give back to the community," said Joe Grusling, who owns and operates Fix-N-Go with his wife, Cindy. "We've never had an opportunity like this before. It fell in our laps and it really makes me feel good to be able to help somebody like this."

Fix-N-Go rebuilt the van's transmission, installed a new battery, changed the oil, attached new windshield wiper blades and gave it an overall inspection.

Normally, Grusling estimated the abilwhole job would have cost somewhere between $2,000 and $2,200. That includes seven to 10 hours worth of labor and about $1,500 in parts.

But Grusling and his wife decided to do it for free.

"We understand this person was in need and we saw it as an opportunity to help her out," he said. "When you get an opportunity to give back, it certainly makes you feel good. We wouldn't be where we are today without our customers and the community around us."

Unable to use her arms and legs or even talk, Diamond is completely dependent on her mother's 24-7 care. She lost her ability to speak at the age of 2 when her seizures began. At age 7, she lost the ability to walk.

"She can't do anything anymore," Rougeau said.

No one is exactly sure what Diamond's medical condition is. Rougeau said one doctor told her it was leukodystrophy. However, another doctor disagreed with that diagnosis.

But giving Diamond's condition a name doesn't the change the reality of her situation or lessen her mother's day-to-day struggle to care for her on a single-mother's fixed income.

Rougeau's load is even heavier given she must also care for her other daughter, Adja, 17, who suffers from severe mental disorders.

Rougeau has no family locally to help her out because she came to Michigan in 1987 from Louisiana.

Although her life is hard, Rougeau asks for nothing for herself. Her only goal is to help her daughters and meet their needs as best she can.

"It's not about me, it's about my children," she said. "Who cares about me? They've got to be taken care of."

Getting this van will enable her to do that in a manner that's easier, safer and more efficient.

With her old van, when it came time to move Diamond from her wheelchair to the vehicle (or vice versa). Rougeau had to lift and carry her 160-pound daughter.

For a 47-year-old woman who weighs 147 pounds and has arthritis in her back, plus chronic lower back pain, that's not an easy or safe thing to do on a regular basis.

"She had grown so big in the last two years, it was hard to pick her up, put her in and take her out," Rougeau said. "It's not good for her body. It's not good for my body."

Add to this the fact that the old van's running board nearly touches the ground every time Rougeau steps on it while she's carrying Diamond and the safety hazard was even greater for both of them.

"It could break off at any time," she noted.

The new van eliminates this problem thanks to an electric wheelchair lift that makes Diamond's entry and exit a piece of cake.

"It's so easy and takes so much less time," Rougeau said.

When Joe Dzenowagis, of MORC, heard of Rougeau's need for a new van and saw the YouTube videos chronicling that need and Diamond's struggles, he immediately went to work to find them a van.

MORC is a private, nonprofit agency that provides services and support for more than 5,500 individuals with disabilities living in Oakland and Macomb counties.

At the outset, Dzenowagis wasn't optimistic about the chances of getting a van for Rougeau and her family.

"We supply people with food, clothing and shelter, but this is one of the tougher ones to actually get transportation," he explained. "That's probably one of the hardest things to do. (The people we serve) can't afford it and we can't afford it as an agency."

Fortunately, he learned that Progressive Lifestyles had a spare, used van that had about 70,000 miles on it and needed some work. The van used to belong to a person who lives at a Progressive Lifestyles residential facility in Oakland Township. It was donated to the group by the resident's parents.

"I don't know what we would have done if we hadn't found this one. It would have taken forever to find one," Dzenowagis said. "That's why this donation and the service Joe Grusling provided was really, really big."

It made the folks from Progressive Lifestyles feel quite good to be able to help Rougeau and her family in such a profound way.

"Diamond here needs a little more help than we do," said Shannon Morrish, who manages the Progressive Lifestyles facility in Oakland Township. "It was a great opportunity to bless somebody else.

"It makes me love my job even more. This is why I do it. I'm just blessed to be a part of all this."

"I love giving and doing for people," said Ruth McCormick, who works as the maintenance supervisor for Progressive Lifestyles. "It's what I've been doing for a long time. It's what I do everyday."

McCormick was absolutely blown away by Grusling's generosity in all this.

"I cannot even believe that he did this," she said. "It was a major job. I think this will come back to him in a good way because it always does."

"Thank you to everyone," Rougeau added. "Thanks so much for doing this. I am so grateful."