Disabled School Aide Smiling, Driving Again Thanks to Town’s Help

b_250_0_16777215_00_images_obgrabber_2014-02_e0ec1ef309.jpgRalph Orlowski/Getty Images (ARLINGTON, Mass.) -- Chris Cotreau drove to work today. And it thrilled him. Cotreau, an instructional aide in a middle school, is disabled and has been virtually stranded since his old vehicle died. What was thrilling about his drive on Friday was not just that he had a new handicapped-accessible van, but that the community had raised money to help him get it.

“Former teachers, old students, parents of former teachers all came together to help me, I really can’t thank everyone enough,” Cotreau told ABC News Friday. “There were people as far back as elementary school that donated. It’s surreal.”

Cotreau is touched by the outpouring of affection and help.

“The word that really comes to mind is humbling,” he said.

Cotreau, who lives in Arlington, Mass., has always been independent and doesn’t ask for much. When his old van was totaled in late December, Cotreau was helpless and realized he needed to start raising money to fund a new vehicle. Cotreau, 47, works with children and uses a wheelchair to get around after being paralyzed in a diving accident.

Matt Urciuoli, a real estate agent who has known Cotreau for many years, created the Chris Cotreau Fund. Donations began pouring in and they have raised over $26,000 so far.

“I just did it. I had to. Chris is a great guy,” Urciuoli told ABC News.

Cotreau’s 2013 Toyota Sienna is state-of-the-art, with all the features Chris needs to be able to drive. There is a knob on the steering wheel that makes it easy for him to turn, hand controls for the brake and gas, and an electric ramp that makes it easy for Cotreau to get in and out of the van.

These features are not cheap. A new van can cost anywhere up to $60,000. After Cotreau spent $10,000 of his own money plus the money donated, he was still short of some cash. Toyota of Watertown (Mass.) General Manager Adam Skolnick heard Cotreau’s story and wanted to help. “I called him and told him to go ahead and buy a new van, [the dealership] will pay the difference,” said Skolnik.

Cotreau can’t believe the support he has received, especially from his pal Urciuoli.

“Matt did everything, legwork, research, fundraising.  I can never repay him.  He has a big heart, he’s a very kind person,” Cotreau said.

Cotreau drove out of the Toyota dealership in his new van straight to the Watertown Middle School where he works.

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