Winner of wheelchair accessible minivan takes joy in getting mobility back

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- May is Mobility Awareness Month. To recognize that people have different abilities, it’s that time of year again to enter for your chance to win one of three wheelchair-accessible minivans.

After seeing FOX 17's story last year, Collene Van Noord of Holland decided to enter, and was the first from West Michigan to win. This is the fifth annual, national Local Hero contest which the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA) runs alongside agencies like Clock Mobility and BraunAbility.

Last August Van Noord received her keys to her custom-fit van: an incredible day, and one she said has made her feel like anybody else again.

“Sitting inside, it looks just like anybody else.”

Once again in the driver’s seat, Van Noord took FOX 17 for a drive Wednesday.

“I had decades driving, but not decades driving without my feet,” she said.

“So it’s a whole new learning curve again, it’s that muscle memory that you don’t have, but it comes.”

She said when she found out she won last June, being named a 2015 Local Hero, “that call was very surreal.”

“I was so excited that all my hard work paid off, like getting the word out there,” said Kadi DeHaan, marketing manager with Clock Mobility in Grand Rapids.

“Then, when I found out the winner was Collene, and she heard it on FOX 17, it was amazing.”

Here’s how it works: enter your story as soon as possible before voting starts May 3, online at by clicking on the Local Heroes tab up top.

Then briefly write how a wheelchair-accessible minivan would help you. DeHaan advised that you focus writing about how you feel you are helping your community already.

Then it’s all about getting daily votes May 3 through 31. Anyone can vote once per day, which accounts for one point. As you vote you can earn another point by answering the daily mobility question. Go to Clock Mobility’s Facebook page for a hint to that answer.

Also, call Clock Mobility at (616) 698-9400 to complete a quality needs assessment. When you do this you earn 1,000 points right off the bat. When you enter your story you can use the code: MFKT9 for 10 points, too.

Van Noord appropriately named her van “Van Gogh,” and said this year has been one to remember.

“It’s been wonderful,” she said.

“There’s something about driving when you’re sitting at the seat it feels like it was before the accident, because you’re at the same level you were before, you’re at the same level everybody is when they drive.”

A retired superintendent and educator, Van Noord focuses on her blog Fast Hugs, also sharing spinal cord injury research.

"There’s hope that we’ll be able to stand, walk, or have a better quality of life, the hope is really there it’s amazing,” said Van Noord.

Now she is writing a children’s book, in search of a publisher, to illustrate her underlying motto: “Sure I can.”

“It’s all different scenarios of ‘sure I can do that and this is how it would happen,’” said Van Noord.

She says just take the time to enter. Her van is “quite a blessing, quite a lovely gift.”

This year NMEDA is giving away three minivans: one in the 'general' category, one to a caregiver, then one to a senior.

A separate committee will select the three winners from a pool of those who earned the top 10 percent of votes. The final selection is not based on voting points. Last year Van Noord earned just under 10,000 points.

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