This morning, our non-accessible Honda Civic was towed and donated to Wheels 4 Hope.
It’s been exactly one year since I came home with the dread, knowing that if we didn’t find another method of transportation asap, we would be in big trouble. The timing was the worst, as the weekend before, we had just released our memoir, Ink in the Wheels: Stories to Make Love Roll.
And indeed, Barton had been walking the streets for many years, more than most of us. He’d plan out his trip on the bus to arrive one or two hours prior to a meeting just to make sure there’s a bus where the lift works. And he has been stuck out on the road before, at the mercy of drivers and dispatchers. Megan had begun to get used to the heart attack near misses Barton would joke about when he arrived home. We included many of them in our memoir. For Barton, it was just a part of his day. For Megan as long as he got home in one piece, she was okay. But exactly one year ago, we faced no transportation at all.
This year, we are Paying It Forward to Step Up Ministry, a ministry that mentors the under-served in our community. Recently, a staff member talked about what happens when a family does not have transportation. Try it, for one week, to go completely without using your car.
Transportation is one of the biggest challenges for families impacted by disability because modified equipment is so, so expensive. Last year, we were there. So we got to work right away.
When we applied for the NMEDA Local Hero’s contest, we were unaware of how many emotions we would feel during the course of the year.
We wanted to pass along our tips to those who are entering this year- for support and encouragement!!
Tips for the NMEDA Voting Contest
1. Find an organized system.
First thing in the morning, we would send a daily email with a funny story or photo and the answer to the question for the extra point (to those who gave their permission of course). We would remind voters they could not vote on the same server (it became an issue if there was an office or school that used one server). And if issues came up with voting- several times the system would not work or got overloaded- we would remind voters to be patient and continually thank them for their support.
After sending out an email, we posted on social media, and then we would vote ourselves.
Who do you get to vote? Family, work, friends, alumnae associations, groups, church groups, neighbors, schools. What if you don’t have a big network to start? Create one! If only one person sent it out to their contacts, you’d be surprised how much momentum you can create.
2. Pictures, pictures, pictures! People loved the picture of Barton trying to get in the trunk of the Honda. It was funny, but it also sent a visual representation of why an accessible van was so important to us. People got the message!
3. Enlist help! It can be very stressful trying to push for votes. We certainly weren’t prepared for the ups and downs over the course of the contest. Yet, we were not alone! We had one friend who loved sending us graphics she had tweaked that we could use. Family members sent out our emails. Many of our friends posted on social media on our behalves, without us even knowing or asking. And Barton’s best buddy would tally the top contenders to find out where we were in the standings. People are more likely to get behind you if they know where you are!
4. Messaging. At one point during the contest, we felt a downward spiral in how people were spreading the word, that if you had the worst pity-party story about how you couldn’t get to work or out the door of your house, you were worthy of a van. On the contrary! Every single entrant deserves a van!! In fact, if we hadn’t needed a van so bad, we would have voted for others we felt deserved a vehicle more than us (a man who had served during 9/11 was particularly moving)! Transportation is an issue for all of us, otherwise why would we be entering? And– all of the winners worked for the betterment not only of themselves, but of their community!
While we were honest about the challenges we faced personally, we were also determined to have an upbeat message, if we won a van or not. And we wanted to inspire others along the way, that no matter who you are or what your ability, you can overcome challenges you face.
5. Barton made it to the semi-finalist rounds!! Then what? It’s out of your hands, sort of. From what we understood by the rules, judges were not influenced by any outside sources or media. They only looked at entry stories. But–we didn’t give up, with friends and family writing messages on the NMEDA FB page. I even wrote a Open Letter to the NMEDA, and to be honest I’ll never know if it was seen by anyone but our own friends. But it didn’t matter. If we weren’t going to win, we wanted to get our message out there, to reach other families of all abilities.
6. Waiting & Communications- Some contestants were disappointed they didn’t receive any communication from the NMEDA at all when/after winners were notified. We were, too. We were all left in the dark, wondering, asking, waiting. While we can’t speak for the NMEDA, what we can say is that waiting is the hardest part. Many days while we were waiting Megan felt like she had OCD (attachment to the outcome); she couldn’t think of anything else. Often we wondered if they tried calling us and we just missed them. While we wish we had received official word one way or another, or some sort of regret letter, we clung to each other (the two of us as well as other semi-finalists). During this time, give yourself and your family some loving tender care and start letting go.
7. What happens if you don’t win? We didn’t. We celebrated those who did win because they were making huge strides in their personal lives and communities. But, we were also heartbroken. It takes a while to let the disappointment go, especially after such dedication and commitment for such a long voting contest. Megan, in particular, had given up so much during the year to put her full attention towards the contest. And we had to move through those emotions of disappointment and the fear of- now what? Give yourself a breather after the contest, and let yourself decompress. We also communicated with a few other contestants, creating a sense of camaraderie and community.
8. Don’t give up! Start a Go Fund Me Campaign, community fundraiser, church fundraiser. Follow up with media if you had contacted media during the contest. Write an article or blog. It was really important for us to Pay It Forward along the way, so we chose a unique fundraiser. Do something that includes your own personality and style!
Through a crazy turn of events, we were able to purchase an accessible vehicle, an MV-1!!!!!
We could have never imagined how it would happen- it certainly wasn’t how we thought it would be. It took perseverance, dedication, and a lot of divine intervention.
No matter what, just keep going, and going, and going!!!!!
There you go.
We wish all of the contestants in the NMEDA Local Hero’s Contest luck, love and perseverance!!
~Megan and Barton Cutter