Emily Progin, PR and Communications Coordinator
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HELP FOR DEDICATED COMMUNITY ACTIVIST WHO NEEDS WHEELCHAIR VAN
“Jason Will Be Able to Give Back So Much More”
BLOOMINGDALE, N.Y.—In 2004, Jason Thurston of the Adirondack Park was 31 and his life changed forever: he broke his neck and sustained a paralyzing spinal cord injury in his swimming pool.
Prior to the injury, Jason was determined to be a chef. He attended Paul Smiths College in 1991, “the college of the Adirondacks”—and he fell in love with the Adirondack Park’s 6 million acres of forest and its balance between residential towns and forever wild land.
After the accident, Jason was told to move to a more accessible area, “but I decided I would rather make my area more accessible,” he explained. “I just can’t imagine living anywhere else.” The experience of interacting with his community through the lens of accessibility planted a seed in Jason and began a journey of giving back.
His community rallied following his injury, raising an incredible $20,000—including $7,000 in a single night at his former employer’s restaurant—to help make his home accessible.
Just two years post-injury, Jason got a job with the Tri-Lakes Center for Independent Living working on tourism accessibility. He had his first speaking engagement on accessibility in 2006 with the Saranac Lake Chamber of Commerce. “Since then, I have been dedicated to making this beautiful area more accessible to all residents and visitors,” said Jason.
While his first Tourism Accessibility Project was short-lived, Jason managed to rate all the restaurants in Saranac Lake, Lake Placid, and Tupper Lake based on their accessibility.
Transportation has remained an ongoing challenge for Jason. “We live in a rural area where if you don’t have a vehicle, it’s difficult to get places,” he explained. Because he uses a power wheelchair, not every vehicle can accommodate Jason. He has spent over $30,000 out-of-pocket on four different vans as they have deteriorated over time and become unsafe to use. Though it is vital to his wellbeing and medical health, insurance does not assist with the cost.
That’s why his community is rallying to help Jason get something he desperately needs to keep giving back: a wheelchair accessible van. They are partnering with the nonprofit Help Hope Live to launch a trusted medical fundraising campaign. Donations can be made at: https://helphopelive.org/campaign/20339/
Jason currently serves as the outreach coordinator for John Dillon Park, an accessible campground just outside of Long Lake. Jason connects directly with other people with disabilities, guiding them to the Park and helping them to have the best experience possible. “I love meeting people at the park and networking to spread the word about this beautiful place,” said Jason. He’s even spent 21 nights so far this year camping on his own.
Jason also currently serves as chairman of the local accessibility advisory committee for the department of environmental conservation. “We are on a mission,” he explained, “to advertise what is already accessible, advocate for what needs to be accessible, and advise on projects that are already in motion.” He’s a member of four other advisory boards.
“I’m also engaged in a bigger project to determine what is accessible in our area,” said Jason. “I have worked with other community members and like-minded people with the same mission in mind: to bring people with disabilities to this area and spread the word.”
During COVID, Jason got a unique opportunity to advocate more than ever through virtual meetings and groups. However, as more groups are beginning to assemble in-person again, Jason has had to confront a major day-to-day limitation: lack of safe transportation.
“The community rallied so much in support after I was firs injured,” Jason said. “Now, I’m asking for their help again. To keep advocating for people with disabilities like me, I need a way to get there.”
Donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law, and all funds raised will be managed by the nonprofit to cover verified medical and related expenses. Help Hope Live verifies medical and financial need for every patient.
Help Hope Live is a national nonprofit that specializes in engaging communities in secure, tax-deductible fundraising campaigns for people who need a transplant or are affected by a catastrophic injury or illness. Since 1983, campaigns organized by Help Hope Live have raised over $165 million to pay patient expenses. ###Written by Emily Progin