“We have fun at my corner,” says Hamilton school crossing guard Patrice Jetter. “The kids on the school bus, they make faces at me, so I can make faces back. So it’s all in good fun, and then I have one little girl who comes by my corner and she’s always dancing. We decided every time we go across, what dance are you going to do to today? I gotta make sure the cars stop first, because a lot of them aren’t paying attention.”
Jetter’s been a crossing guard for almost 30 years in two New Jersey towns; she’s now helming a corner outside Greenwood Elementary School in Hamilton. But for someone who’s helped kids get to school for nearly three decades, Jetter, now, needs help to get there herself.
Jetter has cerebral palsy and multiple disabilities. She wears leg braces and walks with a crutch. Because walking is painful and because there’s no viable cross-town public transportation in Hamilton, she now needs an accessible van to get to and from her post—the 18-year-old van she relied on, after multiple fixes, is finally beyond repair, and she can’t afford a new one on her own.
“Down here in Hamilton, if you don’t have a vehicle, you’re up a creek without a paddle,” Jetter says. “By car, I can be at my post in five minutes. If I had to take public transportation to work… I live a mile and a half away from the bus stop, and that’s a long walk with leg braces and a cane plus part of the road has no sidewalk, where you’re forced to walk in the street. But I would have to leave my house at 6:30 in the morning to go walk to a bus to take me to downtown Trenton, to transfer to another bus to come back into Hamilton. It takes you over an hour to get to work and my shift is only 30 minutes. Then you gotta do it again going back.”
Insurance will not cover the cost of a new van for Jetter, so she’s raising funds herself, and with the help of Help Hope Live, a top-rated nonprofit that helps run community fundraising campaigns for folks that incur medical costs from organ and cell transplants and catastrophic injuries and illnesses that are not covered by insurance. Though the hope is people donate directly to Jetter’s campaign, she’s also collecting cans (and encouraging others to drop off theirs) so she can turn them in and get 70 cents per pound.
Jetter requires a van that she can get in and out of, store her medical equipment, provide a necessary vantage point on the road and which won’t require costly, ongoing repairs.
“A lot of vehicles are very low to the ground, and they’re hard to get in and out of, or you can get in it but then you sink and you can’t get up. Sort of like the cushy couch you sit in and can’t get up,” Jetter says. “Also a lot of the full-sized cars are being discontinued, so you can’t even get parts for them. Also with being in a van … I can actually transport my own stuff as well as my medical equipment, and not have to ask somebody else with a van or a truck to help me. Because a lot of times, most people that have a van or a truck are not available when you need them. I like being independent.”
Jetter not only needs the van to get to and from work, she needs it to live her life. She sees a doctor, on average, once a month. She’s an artist—a painter, drawer and graphic designer who serves as a resident artist for the Special Olympics—and needs to transport her work and materials. Jetter says she fell in love with art when she was one of the first kids to go through Head Start, which provided her access to education and resources “we didn’t have at home.”
She’s also a figure skater and volunteer skating instructor, who competed in February in the NJ Special Olympics Winter Games—she and her boyfriend, who’s in a wheelchair, competed in a doubles competition.
“I had started doing skating when I was 8 or 9 because my mom would support me doing things because she said, ‘Despite your disability, you’re still a kid.’ And if she had to get a doctor’s note for me to participate in an activity, she would do it,” Jetter says.
In short, Jetter’s a remarkable person.
“She has this wonderful light,” says Kelly Green, executive director of Help Hope Live. “She’s handled her health concerns beautifully with such grace and such poise and such strength. What she’s handling is really difficult. She is truly navigating a system that works against her in terms of getting the kind of health care that she needs for her conditions.”
Help Hope Live helps raise funds for about 5,000 families every year—as many of you do not need to be told, an onslaught of copayments, prescriptions, accessibility tools, transportation, housing and more can add up during a medical crisis, and beyond. Many people in medical crises face expenses that continue throughout their lives.
It’s the result of a deeply flawed health care system in the U.S. Though Help Hope Live, which has the unique vantage point of seeing the toll of high medical costs on families, does not do any policy work, Green can attest that the system needs changing: “I whole-heartedly believe that quality health care should be a human right. It should not be a privilege for people who can afford access.”
Help Hope Live serves a valuable role in this fractured system; they offer grant money for people to pay their out-of-pocket medical expenses, which doesn’t interfere with income levels. That’s important, because of people like Jetter, who rely on social assistance programs that new income would invalidate.
Jetter got her first van via GoFundMe, an online crowdfunding site. But funds raised from the site are considered income. So when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found out Jetter had raised $6,500 via the site, they sent her a letter informing her that they’d be cutting off her HUD voucher, on which she relied. ”I didn’t know I could get penalized even though people donated to help me,” Jetter says.
It’s kind of cruel, right? As is advocating for cutting funding to the kinds of social support programs (Head Start, Special Olympics, Section 8, Social Security, public transportation) on which people like Jetter, who enrich their communities, rely.
Jetter is currently carpooling to work with a co-worker, but it’s important to her that she lives independently, and a van is critical to her achieving that. Jetter can’t participate in local Special Olympics events without a van; there’s no bus in her area that’ll take her to event spaces early enough. That matters beyond the event: “It’s the only form of exercise that some of us actually get,” Jetter says.
Nonetheless, the burden of raising funds to get a new van is now on Jetter. Luckily, Help Hope Live (and, hopefully, you) are helping create a successful campaign, while recognizing that Jetter, and many folks like her, are uneasy about asking for help.
“Building a community of support is really hard,” Green says. “We work one-on-one with every individual and help plan their events to build a community of support to get over the, ‘I don’t like to ask for help.’”
Jetter is hoping to raise the necessary funds by September. If successful, she’ll be dancing across the street and making funny faces with kids on buses once again at the start of the school year.
“It’s a great job because, 1) It’s something I know I can do well, 2) I love kids, and 3) It’s one of the few jobs—because I don’t make a lot of money doing it—that it doesn’t mess up my Social Security checks,” Jetter says. “Also with the hours being the way they are, I can go to my doctor’s appointments and very rarely have to take time off from work because I can go between shifts.”
To learn more about and donate to Patrice’s campaign, go here. To learn more about Help Hope Live, and find others to support, go here.