Two years ago, with just nine days left, Tan and I found NMEDA’s first ever Local Heroes contest page. The campaign was simple: get enough people with a mobility disability to tell the world their story and what makes them a local hero, and NMEDA would award four winners with a wheelchair accessible vehicle. The message of the campaign: mobility freedom should be accessible to all. NMEDA saw this campaign as an opportunity to build awareness of the challenges of living with a disability and celebrate those whose lives have embodied the spirit of “Life Moving Forward.”
Though there were only nine days left in the contest by the time we learned of it, we decided to it couldn’t hurt to throw our hat in the ring. But what makes a Local Hero? Tan had no answer; he’s too humble about his own achievements let alone about the kindness and charity he shows others. I had plenty of reasons to offer why Tan is a hero, but he waved off those reasons as bias (see, humble). So we enlisted the help of others on Facebook and asked what they thought. The answers we received were…well, humbling. I know, who needs more humbling, right? But the outpouring of responses ranged from something as simple as Tan always having a smile ready to give, to as big as changing the course of someone’s life because of something Tan said to them.
Using these responses, Tan created a three minute video that painted a portrait of his life through the eyes of others and submitted it to NMEDA’s Local Heroes contest. With t-minus seven days (it took a day to get the submission approval by NMEDA), friends and family voted and spread the word. Supporters at Gulf Coast Security college voted every day, hounded fellow coworkers in their department to vote, and chased us down on a regular basis to let us know they were voting and spreading the word. Soon, Vietnamese celebrities and models joined on the bandwagon and posted support for Tan’s entry on their social media, asking their fans to vote and share. A couponing network joined in at the request of a supporter and promoted voting for Tan’s entry to its couponing followers. And the list kept growing. By the close of the contest Tan’s entry had earned some 60,000 votes!
The votes placed Tan in the Top tier of finalists; the final winners decision was made by a jury of judges who applied a series of qualifications they were looking for and chose winners based on their view of fulfilling those qualities. Tan didn’t win, but he did build something–a community of awareness. People began to recognize the mobility problems faced by others in their community. People who voted began to ask, why not donate? Quickly they began to understand that one vote if translated into even just $1, that $60,000 could be raised.
The contest was a great experience, but we learned that we couldn’t just leave Tan’s independence up to chance. We understood that we couldn’t do this alone, but that another contest wasn’t what we needed. So last year we began the steps to building the Help a Quad Out Project, a place where we could enlist the help of a supporting community to raise the funds needed for a handi-accessible wheelchair van for Tan, and a place where we could continue to build awareness for the mobility and independence needs of other quads. The goal is to grow this project, turn it into a foundation that can help others like Tan. But at the heart of this, the chip that brought this all together, was our experience participating in the NMEDA’s Local Heroes contest.
This year marks NMEDA’s 3rd annual Local Heroes contest in their Live Moving Forward Campaign. The contest will begin accepting submissions February 25th and close for submissions May 9th. NMEDA will award one Local Hero with a wheelchair accessible van–$50,000 approximate value. The journey begins for someone; please consider watching for this year’s entrants and voting for a story you feel deserves to win. Follow the contest at www.mobilityawarenessmonth.com/local-heroes/ or follow news about the contest with NEMDA’s Facebook page.
And as a part of #throwbackthursday, here’s Tan’s NEMDA submission from 2012.