NEW PORT RICHEY — Joshua Keller has been rolling around in the same wheelchair since he was 4. Now he is 9 years old, and his bottom barely fits on the seat. Every week the chair needs some fixing.
"He's just simply outgrown the chair, but I can't afford to buy him a new one," said his father John Keller, a realtor suffering through a difficult housing market. He also works as a wedding disc jockey.
Joshua was born with spina bifida, a condition where the bones of the spine do not form properly around part of the spinal cord. The Deer Park Elementary third-grader is paralyzed from the waist down.
Now, thanks to a new nonprofit organization, he has a shot at new, sporty wheelchair.
A Charitable Wheelchair Foundation of St. Petersburg will host an event on Saturday at Shananigans Irish Bar in New Port Richey to help raise money for Joshua.
The state of Florida provides a heavier wheelchair, but it restricts the young, energetic boy. The foundation hopes to put him in a sporty model that is light with a low back and alloy frame he could easily maneuver. It costs at least $1,500.
Keller, 46, is divorced and raising Joshua and his 6-year-old sister, Jenna.
Joshua enjoys school, sailing with his father, swimming and reading. Every night before bed he prays and gives thanks for his family and food.
"I prayed a lot that Johnny (his brother in the Army) came back from Afghanistan," he said. "And he did."
Joshua has fun with his wheelchair.
"I go off curvy sidewalks, go on the grass, and I even go backwards sometimes," he said.
Paul Summerfield, founder of A Charitable Wheelchair Foundation, randomly met Joshua's grandmother at a veterans home. During their conversation, he learned of Joshua's situation.
Spokesman Joe Manzo, 51, said Joshua's fundraiser is the first event for the fledgling foundation. Manzo, who has cerebral palsy and is also in a wheelchair, said he joined the four-member group about a month ago.
"Our goal and our plan is to help raise funds for any child in need of a wheelchair or walker," he said.
Manzo said most kids in wheelchairs are like Joshua — they challenge themselves to do things they are told they can't do.
"I fell in love with the kid, and there are thousands of Joshuas out there," he said. "We want to help these young fighters."
Jacqueline Baylon can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: For information about A Charitable Wheelchair Foundation's efforts to provide a new wheelchair to 9-year-old Joshua Keller, call Joe Manzo at (727) 326-7662. Due to incorrect information provided to the Times, the wrong phone number ran with the original version of this article.