Jani Watson surprised with van

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Town Crier News Staff

Jani Watson of Manila has spent the last seven years moving forward to a new way of life. She is quick to say it has been more than just learning to live without walking but living with enthusiasm for life. She said she discovered the love of life does not come from being able to walk but through faith.

Watson was injured in a car accident on July 21, 2000.

"They put me back together but gave my family little hope," Watson said. "They did not think I would last 24 hours. It was a miracle I lived."

Watson suffered a spinal cord injury leaving her paralyzed from the chest down. Reality was not easy for her.

"I thought my life was over," Watson said. "For awhile I was mad at myself. I was mad at God for even letting me live. I was mad at everyone."

Watson said she got addicted to prescription pain pills through the process and had to fight that battle also.

"I have been clean and sober for 21 months," Watson said. "The Lord changed my life. I found out I would rather sit in light than walk in darkness."

Watson, who says she has been blessed many times over, was overwhelmed on Tuesday when she was presented with an Oldsmobile Silhouette van, converted to operate with hand controls and equipped with a special folding ramp and adjustable driver's seat. The presentation was made at Presidential Conversions, 2500 Commerce Drive, Jonesboro. Many of her family members and friends were on hand to surprise her.

"I knew people were trying to get me a van but I had no idea I would be driving it home on Tuesday," Watson said.

Watson had spent four months at Hot Springs at the Arkansas Career Training Institute learning to drive a hand controlled vehicle.

"The first time I tried, it was so foreign I was not sure I would be able to master it, but I finally learned and received my driver's license last year," she said.

Watson lives independently at Roseland Apartments in Manila. She lives on a fixed income and there was no way she could afford to purchase a vehicle, she said.

The van came about through a friendship with Donna Cutler of Russellville. Cutler is also in a wheelchair and the two met at the Arkansas Miss Wheelchair pageant.

"I left the pageant thinking I had lost because I did not win a crown," Watson said. "Now I realize I was the winner more times over because I met Donna. Donna is an angel to me."

Cutler said Watson has been an inspiration to her. Cutler works with the Joni and Friends Christian Fund for the Disabled Foundation, one of the grants that helped purchase and equip the van. Other funding came from Little River Missionary Baptist Church at Lost Cane whose members gave $1,800 to pay for the seat conversion; Arkansas Vocational Rehab Service provided $11,000 for the ramp system; the hand controls, $495, were paid for by the Arkansas Spinal Cord Commission. Other funds came from a $4,800 dealer discount; $2,500 from Joni and Friends; $2,710 from Watson's family and friends; and $3,925 from members of Cutler's church, First Baptist of Russellville.

Tim Morren of Presidential Conversions in Fayetteville was in Jonesboro for the presentation. The Jonesboro office has been open only a few months.

Cutler said people from all across the nation have given money to purchase the van and pay to have it modified for Watson's use.

"This completes the puzzle of independence," Watson said.

Watson, an undergraduate student at Arkansas Northeastern College, is working on a degree in family counseling.

She has had to depend on others to get to school.

"I had to work my classes around theirs," Watson said. "God provided me a way through them. He is continuing to provide a way through the van."

Watson has two sons, Zacharey, 16, and Samuel, 10. They spend weekends and time in the summer with her.

Watson also serves as a speaker and has a passion for her speaking engagements. It is her goal to help others through her speaking and inspire enthusiasm for life.

"I want to visit the First Baptist Church in Russellville and thank everyone for helping me, a stranger to them, get the van," Watson said.

She is ready to share her testimony when she is invited to speak.

"God can take your mess and turn it into a message, all for His glory," Watson said. "Through God all things are possible."

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