David Lauderdale

Wheels in motion to give new voice to star at class reunion

Hilton Head Island High School's Class of 1991 had special reason to rejoice at its 20th reunion Saturday night.

Classmate David Jones Jr. was there.

After high school, Jones became a commercial shrimper, like his father and grandfather before him. His strapping body could stand the hard work, and his light-hearted spirit was at home on the open waters.

Then in a single day 14 years ago, a burning sensation turned into a rush to the hospital and a doctor telling him he'd never walk again. A rare virus called transverse myelitis had attacked his spinal column. Jones still doesn't believe the never-walk-again part, but he remains paralyzed from the neck down.

Four years ago, his classmates, led by Elise Silver Simons and Julie Jones Delguerico, started a fundraising drive to buy Jones a van so he could live a better life. It took them a year, but they raised $36,000 and christened his 2004 Ford E-250 van "Goldie" because of its color.

The van meant Jones could see the world again. He could develop a better relationship with his 14-year-old son, DeVante Jones. He can be there when he plays football, and they can worship together at Christian Renewal Church. And the van meant Jones could join in on the reunion laughs with his high school classmates, wise and generous well beyond their years.

"It's been more than just a vessel of transportation," Jones said. "It has been a true blessing to be able to go places that at one point wasn't always possible with the transportation system we have here."

Now the van has enabled Jones to gain something more -- a new voice.

Gov. Nikki Haley recently appointed Jones to a three-year term on the S.C. Independent Living Council.

It is a nonprofit organization "committed to equal opportunity, equal access, self-determination, independence and choice for all people with disabilities."

It oversees the expenditure of some federal funds and operates three Centers for Independent Living that offer four core services -- information and referrals, peer counseling, independent-living skills training and advocacy. None of the three centers serves Beaufort or Jasper counties.

"It is first very humbling to be appointed," Jones said. "But at the same time, to now be able to give my voice to the legislature or decision-makers, to sit toe-to-toe or face-to-face and let them know what it's like and why what we need is needed, is a great accomplishment."

Life has given all the members of the class of 1991 different challenges, Jones says. But he will not allow his challenges to dictate how he lives his life. By serving on the statewide council, he hopes his new voice can help others do the same.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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