GARNERVILLE, N.Y. -- Aris Gomez and Austin Gillman have been best buds ever since they went to kindergarten together at Thiells Elementary School, says the latter’s mom, Arlene.
They both fell in love with firefighting and started hanging around at the David B. Roche firehouse in the Thiells Roseville Fire District when they were barely teenagers.
They were allowed to attend drills and went both later went through training in the hopes of becoming probationary, and eventually full-fledged, firefighters.
Then, one November day in 2013, the dreams of one of the young men came crashing down.
Aris, then 15 and an honor student, was felled by a ruptured brain aneurysm just a few months shy of attaining probationary status.
Aris survived, but at the cost of the use of his right side.
Austin, now 18, went on to become a firefighter. Aris was made an honorary firefighter just days after he underwent life-saving surgery.
Now Austin and his family are in a position to extend a lifeline to Aris and his mom, Vanessa Rodriguez, of Garnerville.
Arlene Gillman has launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise $60,000 to buy a van for Aris.
The 6-foot-tall teen has a motorized wheelchair and attends school and has physical therapy at a local pediatric hospital.
But when he and Rodriguez, a single mom, have to go anywhere, they must use a folding wheelchair and her car or a rented van.
The family has had to move to a first-floor apartment with a ramp, Arlene Gillman said.
Rogriguez is petite and has a bad back and can’t transfer Aris from chair to car without help, her friend Arlene said Friday.
Besides, like most teens, Aris needs his space and a van would go a long way toward helping him gain more independence.
Rodriguez had entered her son this spring in a “local heroes” contest run by the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association in the hopes of winning him a wheelchair accessible van.
The non-profit, advocacy group strives to provide disabled folks with specialty vehicles and other mobility aids.
Aris made it to the finals, but, unfortunately, did not win the contest, Arlene Gillman said.
So far Gillman’s GoFundMe campaign, which she launched Wednesday, has raised $2,130.
“It’s really a last resort, and so very, very needed,” she said.