By BETSY BETHEL
Life Associate Editor
Garrett Czapp enjoys many activities of a typical 6-year-old. He likes to play soccer, swim, run through the sprinkler and listen to music from the Nickelodeon show, "Victorious."
Eli and Garrett Czapp sell lemonade at their family yard sale in June to raise money for the Free Wheelchair Mission.
But unlike most children, Garrett has a baby sister with a serious physical impairment: Sarah was born eight months ago without a lower spine, left hip and left leg. Her left foot is attached directly to her lower abdomen.
Garrett's mom, Jocelyn, believes her daughter's condition - which doctors call lumbosacral dysgenesis and say the cause is unknown-has led to Garrett developing a heightened sensitivity to others' needs. So when Garrett and his brother, Eli, who is 3, asked to put up a lemonade stand at the family yard sale in June, it was only natural that they would donate the money to help others.
Garrett wanted the money to go to Sarah, but Jocelyn and dad George said they should look beyond their own family as a "pay-it-forward" gesture for all the support the community has given them.
So in honor of Sarah, who will eventually use a wheelchair, Garrett and Eli raised $130 for the Free Wheelchair Mission, which provides sturdy, inexpensive wheelchairs to immobile people in impoverished nations. The donation was enough to purchase two chairs.
"Actually, they made more money than we did (at the yard sale)," Jocelyn said, adding family and friends made special donations.
"It is such an inspiring story of making a difference," said John Warnick, Ohio Valley regional representative for Free Wheelchair Mission. Despite Sarah's physical limitations and the resulting financial obligations, "the family 'looks' to serve other first, before their needs."
The Czapps live in Warwood and heard about Free Wheelchair Mission through their church, Corpus Christi Catholic Church. Money in hand, they visited the mission's Wheeling office and, when Garrett saw the wheelchairs, Jocelyn said "he was really surprised at what he did. 'I bought two of those?' he said. ...
"I was very proud of them, my husband and I were, because it made us realize they literally just care so much about their sister. I think the good thing is they realize other people need more then we need," Jocelyn said.
She added that Garrett is now a "little ambassador" for Free Wheelchair Mission, and he is always checking out the accessibility of places in the community.
"He keeps telling me, 'We have to get a ramp on the house, Mom! We really have to get a ramp!'"
Because Sarah is still a baby, a wheelchair is not necessary yet- and Jocelyn hopes she won't have to spend much time in one at all.
"They told me she wouldn't crawl or roll over. She's done both. She's starting to pull up," Jocelyn said. In the coming months, Sarah will have her left foot amputated at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and will be fitted for a hip and leg prosthetic at Shriners Hospital for Children in Erie.
"She'll probably use a wheelchair, but I am trying, I don't want her to be confined to one," Jocelyn said. Sarah receives physical therapy through West Virginia Birth to Three once a week, and Jocelyn performs daily therapy to help strengthen Sarah's core.
Garrett and Eli love to play with their sister and make her giggle. They are both "very sweet" to her, Jocelyn said. And Sarah is the "happiest baby ever."
"I feel like God compensates in personality for what people lack otherwise. ... (Sarah) just captivates you as soon as you see her. I really feel God designed her that way," Jocelyn said. "She has touched more people in her eight months than most people do in their lives."
For information about Free Wheelchair Mission, visit freewheelchairmission.org or call Warnick, 304-215-1396.