A teenager’s dream of enjoying the ocean for the first time in five years became a reality after his local community came together to buy him a specially-made beach chair.
Josh Laforteza, 17, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a baby and fell in love with the ocean from a young age. As a child his family were able to carry him to the beach, but as he got older he became too heavy to carry and his wheelchair made it difficult to access the beach.
For years, the Laforteza family, from Tauranga, New Zealand, were unable to visit the seaside with Josh, but that all changed after his local community came together to make his dream a reality.
One day Josh’s mother Kaye was having a conversation with her friend and colleague Suzanne Moran about all the beautiful beaches she’d visited, but there was only one question on her mind: “Do they have wheelchair access?” – which, of course, many do not.
Suzanne scoured the internet for special beach chairs for those with special needs, before coming across the Hippocampe.
Kaye said: “She told me about it – sent me a link and said ‘this would be perfect for Josh’. I said ‘yes’ but in my heart I know we can’t really afford it.”
Suzanne, determined to see Josh enjoying the ocean he loved so much, launched a Givealittle fundraising page in the hope of raising enough money to be able to afford the beach buggy.
The Laforteza family needed 6,500 New Zealand dollars (£3,700), and a quarter of that was raised by their community through the fundraising page.
The Legacy Trust and Bayfair Shopping Centre also pitched in and within a month, Kaye was able to place an order for the Hippocampe.
The specially-made chair took three months to arrive from the US and was presented to Josh at Mt Maunganui beach.
Kaye said: “Josh’s hands went straight to scoop up a handful of sand and giggled when the water hit him, he loved it!”
The Hippocampe floats on water and comes equipped with two sets of wheels – one for the beach and one for rough terrain – also allowing the family to embark on walking trails with Josh.
“It changed our lives and made our world bigger. People don’t really realise how debilitating it is to be restrained in a wheelchair where the only places you can go is the busy city or malls,” Kaye said.
“New Zealand is a very beautiful country and we have lived here for 14 years, coming from the Philippines, and yet we haven’t really been to the beautiful places because it is inaccessible. Not any more.”