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“Jake’s van” donated to local nonprofit

  • Jacob Bergeron. Courtesy photo

  • Jacob Bergeron Courtesy photo—

  • "Jake's Van," a van donated to the Jaffrey-Rindge School District in memory of a former student, has been donated to Monadnock Christian Ministries. Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—

  • "Jake's Van," a van donated to the Jaffrey-Rindge School District in memory of a former student, has been donated to Monadnock Christian Ministries. Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 10/3/2018 4:05:03 PM

A dormant memorial van at the Jaffrey-Rindge School District has been given new life after being donated to a local nonprofit.

The district’s school board unanimously voted on Monday to donate “Jake’s van” – a wheelchair-accessible van donated to the district over a decade ago in memory of Jaffrey resident Jacob Bergeron – to Monadnock Christian Ministries. The van will primary be used by the nonprofit for their afterschool program, which serves Jaffrey students.

“I’m excited to see what new opportunities the van can have,” school board member Alison Bergeron, Jake’s sister-in-law, said. “… We definitely look forward to them being able to use it to serve the students still in our district. Our goal is that they will [leave Jake’s name] on the van, so we can still see it rolling around town.”

Jake, a Conant High School and Keene State College graduate, was adopted by Sheila and Lionel Bergeron after being born in Guatemala in 1981.

After being brought to the United States, Jake was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy — a genetic disorder that affects the part of the nervous system that controls voluntary muscle movement. He was confined in a wheelchair until he passed away in 2004.

“He was always indepen dent… he lived on campus when he went to college and he loved it,” Sheila Bergeron said.

In addition to living on campus in college, Jake also work at the help desk at Keene State College and at home for a management group in Boston. Jake also had a custom van that allowed him to drive with the assistance of push buttons.

“His van brought him so much joy and freedom,” Bergeron said. “That’s all I want – to see the van used by others in the community so others can have that same sense of freedom.”

After his passing, Bergeron and others raised money to purchase a seven-passenger van – or three passenger van if the two wheelchair tie downs were being used – to donate to the school district, so that students in wheelchairs could be transported to basketball games and other extracurricular activities.

“Every time I see it sitting there, I get upset,” Bergeron said. “I haven’t seen it around town in a couple years.”

Over the summer, District Facilities Manager David Reilly began reaching out to agencies in the community who would be willing to take over ownership of the van. Eventually Owen Houghton and the Community Center of Jaffrey got involved as an intermediary group.

Houghton said Tuesday that the Community Center of Jaffrey originally looked into becoming the owner and operator of the van, but insurance costs proved to much. Instead, the group will kick in up to $1,200 to get the vehicle road ready.

“This has become another showing of community, and is what Jaffrey is all about,” Houghton said.

Houghton, who will “always remember [Jake’s] smile,” said the community use of the van will be a good homage to Jake.

Monadnock Christian Ministries in many ways became a natural fit for the memorial van.

The nonprofit is currently in the middle of its third year running Launch Point, an afterschool program they created after the dissolution of Jaffrey’s portion of the district-run afterschool program. The program currently serves about 30 students, mostly grade school students in Jaffrey.

MCM Executive Director Roy Baldwin said he is excited to carry on Jake’s memory and story with the van, and hopes to use it to reach more kids than ever.

“I think that’s the beauty of community, that choices have long lasting impacts,” Baldwin said. “This van is going to allow us to continue to honor the things we want to do in the community.”

Baldwin said MCM has been looking at ways to expand programming to middle school students, and students from Rindge as both groups are not actively involved in Launch Point. By having the van, there will be more opportunities to pick up and drop off various students.

Baldwin said there will also be opportunities for the town to use the van. Houghton said there is a need for such a vehicle on voting days, Veterans Day, and other community events.

Nicholas Handy can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or He is also on Twitter @nhandyMLT.


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