Worcester Telegram - December 24th, 2009
Straight from the heart
Gift of wheelchair aids preschooler
CHARLTON — An early holiday gift from the Grand Lodge of Masons has brought the spirit of Christmas to a handicapped 4-year-old who is about to receive a new wheelchair.
Matthew McElroy, a preschooler at Charlton Elementary School, loves Play-Doh, music and stories.
The child, who lights up a room with his good nature and infectious smile, was born with Noonan syndrome, a genetic disorder that inhibits normal physical development; cerebral palsy, a disorder involving brain development; and pulmonary stenosis, a heart birth defect.
Matthew’s days are spent strapped into a wheelchair that he began to outgrow more than a year ago. His parents could not afford the $6,724 cost of a replacement.
Last week, Robert C. Schremser, state senior grand deacon of the Grand Lodge of Masons, presented Matthew with an early Christmas gift in the form of a $4,935 check for a new wheelchair. Lutheran Social Services and Blue Cross Blue Shield are providing the difference.
At the brief ceremony, Matthew’s father, Michael F. McElroy, was moved and elated.
“At least this burden has been lifted off my shoulders. I’ve been trying to hold the chair together with bubble gum and duct tape,” he said.
Mr. McElroy and his wife, Heather, adopted Matthew and his twin brother, Michael, at birth.
“We knew from the get-go they had issues,” Mr. McElroy said, noting Michael shares his brother’s Noonan and pulmonary stenosis afflictions.
As foster parents, the couple received state funding for the twins’ medical expenses. But when the adoption was finalized two years ago, a technicality in the process caused the state to cease all support.
The McElroys are in a legal struggle with the state to reinstate the medical coverage.
“We weren’t expecting to have to deal with all the medical expenses,” Mr. McElroy said, adding, “We can’t cover the cost of a new chair and Mrs. Pacheco offered to make some calls.”
When school Principal Lori Pacheco relayed the family’s situation to Superintendent of Schools Sean M. Gilrein, Mr. Gilrein called his brother, James A. Gilrein of Dennis, to ask if the Masons could help.
James Gilrein, the Masons’ 21st district deputy grand master, said in an interview, “Part of the money came from the Masonic Angel Fund that helps to fill the immediate needs of children by collaborating with social workers, nurses and school staff. We don’t want to see any child live with restrictions.”
A couple of days after receiving his brother’s call, James Gilrein was seated next to then-stranger Mr. Schremser, the state senior grand deacon, at a Masonry conference. The two soon discovered Mr. Schremser’s wife, Mary Ellen, works in Sean Gilrein’s office.
The connection was made.
Mr. Schremser explained Matthew’s need at his Masonic district meeting and within 10 days the membership raised $4,935.
“We had so many grown men with tears in their eyes happy to contribute,” Mr. Schremser said at the check presentation.
Besides expressing his gratitude for the monetary donations, Mr. McElroy also thanked Dudley-Charlton Regional School District staff for helping his family and enriching Matthew’s life.
“Every day Matt is making leaps and bounds cognitively and physically here. It’s a very loving and supportive environment,” he said.
Last year, Matthew was sent to a special needs program in East Brookfield. Then, the school district’s recent work to provide more special education programs locally made it possible for Matthew to attend preschool at Charlton Elementary, which Michael also attends.
Matthew’s teacher, Tara Trufan, and his special education teacher, Johnna Kelly, know firsthand the challenges of maintaining the outgrown wheelchair.
“It’s been broken several times and has been adjusted to the point where it cannot be adjusted any more,” Ms. Trufan said.
“He is the sweetest boy, always has a smile on his face and he’s excited about school,” Ms. Kelly said. “He’ll be much more comfortable at home and at school with the new chair.”
Matthew’s new wheelchair is being produced by Hudson Home Health Care in Chicopee, and is expected to be complete in about 30 days.
“This generous donation from the Masons truly exemplifies the spirit of giving we share during the holidays. Their willingness to answer a child’s needs warms our hearts,” Sean Gilrein said following the check presentation.
Freemasonry is a fraternal organization for adult men who believe in a Supreme Being and it began in early 18th-century England. Today, Mr. Schremser said, Masons in North America donate more than $3 million per day to national and local charitable causes.
There are about 30,000 Masons in Massachusetts among 250 lodges in 31 districts. Mr. Schremser’s home district, the 24th, is comprised of lodges in Charlton, Auburn, Oxford, Webster, Millbury, Uxbridge, Douglas and Southbridge.