Hillside Learning and Behavior Center student Tony Carpenter smiles with Allegan Alternative High School principal Laura Feffer last week. (Photo provided)

Allegan Alternative High gives back to Hillside student

Virginia Ransbottom, Staff Writer

Although he’s not a student at Allegan Alternative High School, Tony Carpenter received a special presentation at the 2018 graduating ceremony by principal Laura Feffer.

“For years, Tony has visited our school at lunch and sold his delicious baked goods,” Feffer said. “What I hope he knows is how much more he has given us all than ooey gooey treats. Tony’s smile literally lights up our entire school. His positivity is therapeutic. His spirit is tangible.”

Tony Carpenter is a graduating student from Hillside Learning and Behavior Center this year. With Cerebral Palsy and a seizure disorder he uses specialized wheelchairs for everything in his daily living. His ability to communicate is also limited.

To relate to people more his age outside of his normal peers, Hillside worked out a plan with the Alternative high school for Tony to sell baked goods once a month.

Four years and hundreds of brownies later, he has left quite an impression.

Although she was at first unsure how Tony would fit it in or even sell anything, soon students were asking “Is this a Tony day?”

Students bought treats and told him to keep the change. Students bought multiple treats and gave some away to others with no money. Teachers did the same. All left in a better mood, including Tony whose table was empty but heart full of memories of friendships from people who understood him.

“Once a month a school of students who are often underestimated and misunderstood spent a few moments with a young man who the same could be said for,” Feffer said. “But with the clink of each quarter in the cup there was a silent understanding, a recognition even, that in these halls we are loved for exactly who we are.”

Tony’s biggest fan, his mother Denice Pekel, said,  “He’s funny and known for his antics at school.”

For instance, Tony will call people he knows are not old enough, grandpa or grandma just to hear them laugh. He loves funky socks and shirts, one of which declares “I do all of Chuck’s Stunts” referring to Chuck Norris, his biggest idol.

“He’s got the most contagious smile, the best wink, and the loudest ‘I love you’ that you can imagine,” Pekel said. “This boy appreciates everyone—it’s a trait that could be spread further in the world, for sure.”

His mother gushes with pride with many other stories of how funny, charming, helpful, thoughtful, giving, loving, appreciative and hard working he is.

Upon graduation, Tony will be moving with his family to Sharps Chapel, Tenn., where his new home will be completely accessible. His father is building it to include a roll in shower with a fold down shower bed and a track to take him from his bedroom to his bathroom.

“We will miss Tony so much, but are thrilled that he is about to embark on a new chapter down South with a home that it completely Tony accessible,” Feffer said.

There’s just one more thing his friends in Allegan hope to send him off with; Tony needs a new wheelchair.

A Go Fund Me page was set up to help in purchasing a new manual chair for Tony. His current chair is falling apart and it worries him.

While he has a power chair which is maintained through insurance, insurance won’t pay for his secondary chair which is manual. But he needs two.

The power chair is roughly 600 pounds and not easily moved in tight spots or with stairs. It’s also physically draining for him to drive with his head switches. But it is needed for his independence to drive where he’d like to go. While it’s the most costly chair to replace, that is his primary chair.

The manual chair, his secondary chair, which is not covered by insurance, is needed for the places he can’t easily get into, or when he’s tired, or for many other reasons. Coming up with an extra $12,000 for the chair is next to impossible for his family who’ve spent all they have on a “Tony accessible” home.

The community has pitched in nearly $6,000. If you’d like to help, visit https://www.gofundme.com/tony-needs-a-new-set-of-wheels.


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