Ian gets his van, and Ricci goes wild

Ian gets his van, and Ricci goes wild

Ian Novacek poses with his friends from Ricci Middle School in front of a new-to-him 1991 modified Ford van donated to his family by the town. (Breeze photos by Ethan Shorey)

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Faced with the daunting task of raising the $40,000 needed to purchase a new wheelchair-accessible van, Heather Callahan-Novacek said her family was feeling increasing pressure, especially as their old van fell apart.

Last Friday at Ricci Middle School, after running out of gas on the way to school due to a broken gauge, the apprehension lifted and the tears flowed for Callahan-Novacek and her son, Ian, as the two played central roles in a scene resembling the ending to a feel-good movie.

“We’re blown away, overwhelmed,” Callahan-Novacek told The North Providence Breeze. “This is the craziest day ever. What a blessing.”

Ian Novacek, 12, had been told he was getting some type of award at school last Friday, but his mom and others kept it a secret right up until he came out the doors to a wildly cheering crowd that he was winning something much bigger. After a greeting from Mayor Charles Lombardi and Ricci Principal TJ Mellen, he slowly drove his motorized wheelchair toward his new van and his mother, who was waiting with open arms and a sign that read, “Ian’s New Wheels.” The crowd roared, as Ian’s fellow students blew noisemakers.

Watch the moment:

The modified 1991 Ford van the town gave Ian and his family might not look like much to the average observer, said the Ricci student’s mom, but it means everything to a family that wouldn’t be able to go anywhere without it. Daily transportation can provide so much stress on a family of children with disabilities, she said, and having the town take away all that stress was a gesture she’ll never forget.

On May 26, after The Breeze posted a story about Lombardi purchasing an old van with 28,000 miles on it and new tires at state auction for $550, a woman who knew of Ian Novacek’s need for new wheels tagged Callahan-Novacek in a response to the post.

“Omg, we need this, this is everything right now,” Callahan-Novacek responded.

The Breeze then forwarded the request to Lombardi’s office, and the mayor said he would look into it. A last Friday’s rally, he shared how dozens of people sent him letters from around the town, state and world, all in support of Ian getting the new van.

Lombardi, after asking Ian if he was OK, told him everyone was happy for him. He then told the story of how the van came to be in North Providence. He said “everyone knows how frugal we are,” and how “we’re always trying to purchase equipment and vehicles at someone else’s expense.”

At a state auction, he recalled telling Jimmy Grimes, of the town’s repair division, that he wanted to buy the van, and Grimes asking why.

“I said, there’s someone out there that needs this van,” Lombardi told the crowd. “And lo and behold, Ian needed the van.”

The mayor thanked The Breeze for putting out the message that the van was available. He said since the town was the only party entitled to purchase the van, the mayor’s annual Christmas party will reimburse the town the $550 spent on it.

The mayor wished Ian good health and joked that if he’s ever caught speeding, “I’m going to call the chief on you.”

“Oh God,” Ian replied, prompting a big laugh from the mayor.

“This is a community that cares,” Lombardi said. “This is what we do here in North Providence.”

The mayor said Ian and his family are loved.

Mellen said the big reveal of the new van was a special moment for the school. He said this type of action simply doesn’t happen in many other communities.

Ian Novacek has achondroplasia, a genetic disorder resulting in dwarfism and leading to future health complications. The 6th-grader, after an initial look of shock after exiting the doors last Friday, quickly realized what was happening and a smile spread across his face.

“I’m so happy,” he said.

His mom, meanwhile, had tears streaming down her face as she described how important the van is to her family, with both Ian and his younger sister, Grace Callahan, dealing with disabilities. The family has lived on Woonasquatucket Avenue for about 20 years.

Callahan-Novacek said she and her husband, Michael Novacek, are willing to give away their old van if someone wants to fix it up for someone else. Ian’s new wheelchair didn’t fit in that vehicle, and the van is in tough shape, she said, but she’s happy to pay the kindness shown to her family forward in this small way.

Ian Novacek, flanked by his mother Heather, holding the sign, soak in the cheers after Mayor Charles Lombardi, left, announced last Friday that the town would be giving the family a wheelchair van.
Ian’s new van


Kudos to everyone involved in this endeavour and kudos to the Breeze for covering it. I love this type of story. Best wishes to the young man!

Now, if only other municipalities (looking at you, Cumberland) could take the hint and try something like this!