In May, 17-year-old Centreville High School rising senior Juwaan Espinal got to live one of his lifelong dreams when with a friend’s help he was able to meet his hero, Washington Redskins star quarterback Robert Griffin III. The meeting was set up by classmate Morgan Assel as a way to ensure Juwaan would go to the prom with her. She had Griffin hide behind a banner that read: “I know I’m not as cool as RGIII, but will you go to the prom with me?” and then Juwaan’s favorite football player popped out in person, to Juwann’s great surprise.
“That was a dream come true for him,” said his mother, Ibis Epinal. “He is such a huge football and Redskins fan and words couldn’t describe how excited he was. It was such an extraordinary day for him.”
But now, says his mother, Juwaan’s everyday quality of life is in danger.
Juwaan has cerebral palsy and suffers from seizures. Because of this he is wheelchair-bound.
“In September he had surgery to correct the 75-degree scoliosis curve in his back because it was affecting his lungs and other internal organs,” she said. “He is now straight and out of danger physically, but because he is healing, he is getting stronger and growing. He grew more than 5 inches since the spine straightening and has gained 30 pounds.”
Because of this growth spurt, Espinal, a single working mother, says she can no longer lift her son in and out of her car. “Juuwan now weighs 62 pounds and I only weigh 135 myself,” she said. “He also has a power chair that weighs 200 pounds and there’s no way to get that into our car.”
Espinal says she needs a handicap-accessible van, but can’t afford it on her mortgage-loan processor salary, and she did not want to ask Griffin for financial help when he graciously agreed to meet her son.
“I did not want to reach out to him like that,” she said. “He did such a great thing for Juwaan and I did not want to taint that and use it as an opportunity to ask for money. I am a proud person and this is my son. Taking care of him is no one’s responsibility but mine. I’m not one to go on welfare or assistance, even though Juwaan’s medical bills are quite a toll on me.”
But now Espinal says that if she cannot get the van, Juwaan will be in danger of becoming a shut-in.
“If I don’t come up with a way, I am afraid he will just have to stay at home and inside,” she said.
Faced with this outcome, Espinal said she has now swallowed some of her pride and has taken a friend’s advice to start a crowd funding campaign to raise money to buy her son a van.
“A physical therapist at Centreville High School told me about the website gofundme.com, and I finally broke down, swallowed my pride and did it,” she said. “I didn’t know what else to do, and my son is worth it.”
Anyone who wants to contribute can go to http://www.gofundme.com/9urdgg.
So far, the site has raised $4,700 towards Juwaan’s van, but Espinal said the goal is about 10 times that.
“A used accessible van is about $40,000,” she said.
Juwaan’s classmate and prom date, Morgan Assel, said she hopes the money can be raised for Juwaan, and that she is doing everything she can to spread the word so that he can be with his classmates at all their favorite hangouts.
“I’ve learned that he is just like me and all our other classmates,” Assel said. “People may assume that he’s different, but he likes to go to the same places and do the same things as everyone else. He’s not ‘special needs,’ he’s a special guy.”