FAIRFIELD, Conn. — When Fairfield University sophomore Meg Moore first saw flashing lights outside the Barone Campus Center Friday, she worried there was an emergency.
Within minutes the beaming 20-year-old, who has cerebral palsy, realized all the fanfare was for her: Campus public safety officers were bringing her a new state-of-the-art wheelchair to replace the one she’s been holding together with duct tape for about a year now.
“I was really surprised and I was so happy that it’s hard to describe,” Moore said through a communication device on her new chair. “It will really improve my independence wherever I go.”
Moore is a familiar face around campus. The Middlebury, Conn. resident lives with her mom, Anne, in a handicapped-accessible apartment in Dolan Hall and makes her way around campus in her wheelchair.
That’s how Public Safety Sgt. Rob Diddato first noticed her — and the well-used, six-year-old wheelchair that she had outgrown.
“We see Meg zipping around,” he said Friday. “She’s a great kid.”
Diddato put together an on-campus Super Bowl party/fundraiser, raising $7,500 towards the purchase of a new wheelchair. A related online fundraiser more than doubled the amount.
But the wheelchair best suited to Moore’s needs would cost about $60,000.
Enter Fairfield alumni Robert Berchem and Bryan LeClerc, partners in the law firm Berchem, Moses & Devlin, P.C. Working pro bono, the pair negotiated with the vendor and manufacturer and got the price down to about $40,000, which was covered in donations big and small, mostly from the extended University community, LeClerc said.
“Hundreds of people gave,” he said. “Some with donations as little as $5.”
The new chair, which was not covered by insurance, is a Permobil F5 VS custom made for Moore.
“It doesn’t get any better,” said Zach Gural, of National Seating & Mobility, the wheelchair dealer.
The chair will also allow Moore to stand to stretch her muscles when she’s wearing braces, he said.
That’s a good thing because Moore has a busy schedule. She’s a Dean’s List student who earned straight As last semester. She also plays orchestra bells in the Varsity Pep Band and is a Campus Ministry lector and member of the campus Literary Club.
She recently founded the campus Yes You Can Club, which sends Fairfield students into the community to meet with cancer patients and disabled people to provide support and help them achieve a positive outlook. The club is already 80 members strong.
Moore’s mom said her daughter knew about the fundraisers, but didn’t realize her chair would be ready Friday.
“They really cut to the chase and got things done,” she said of the effort. “It will change her life.”
Moore took time crafting a message on her communication device to sum up her gratitude.
“The Fairfield community came out of the woodwork,” she said. “There are some really wonderful people here.”