Cheers erupted from onlookers while tears of joy stained several of their faces as Colleyville Heritage High School students and staff surprised Zakai Clay with a new wheelchair-accessible van Oct. 27.

The backstory

Clay, who has cerebral palsy, has been a student in Grapevine-Colleyville ISD since he was in kindergarten. He attended Bear Creek Elementary and Heritage Middle School before becoming a student at CHHS.

“GCISD is like family,” said Jamie Foster, Clay’s mom. “The things that they have done to accommodate Zakai since he’s been in kindergarten, I just don’t have the words for it.”

When Clay couldn’t make his appearance at a football game in September where he was being named part of the homecoming court, the district’s Special Education Services department reached out to the district’s transportation team to see if they could help.

“GCISD’s Transportation Services did not hesitate to not once, but twice, offer to help with one of the district’s special needs vans to transport [Clay] for his special moment,” Director of Communications Rosemary Gladden said.

The actions of the transportation and special education departments are examples of Superintendent’s Brad Schnautz's "Be the one" initiative.

“One of the things that Dr. Schnautz emphasized at the beginning of the year to district leaders was to look out for opportunities where we can help one another and to 'Be the one' for someone in need,” Gladden said. “In this situation, the transportation team and special education services were both great examples of 'being the one' for a student."

The details

Because Foster didn’t have a wheelchair-accessible vehicle that could handle her son’s 350-pound wheelchair, she established a GoFundMe donation campaign in September to help her pay for one. The campaign raised more than $68,000 to fund the purchase of a new wheelchair-accessible minivan. While many donations were less than $100, three major donations included:
  • $10,000 from ATI Foundation
  • $15,000 from Dispatch Wrecker Service LLC
  • $26,000 from Grapevine Elks Lodge
Students from the school’s football and cheer teams helped raise awareness and funds by selling “I Roll With Zak” T-shirts, which ultimately contributed to the success of Foster’s GoFundMe campaign. Students from the football and cheer teams also helped coordinate the surprise presentation of the new van to Clay on Oct. 27.

What they’re saying

Cheer coach Malloree Gray, who helped organize the fundraiser and the van presentation event, explained how she took up Schnautz’s "Be the one" challenge to help Foster raise money.

“This is my second year teaching [at CHHS], and we all know Zak,” Gray said. “We have a cheer mom who’s also a district employee who felt like she needed to 'Be the one' and we need to start it, and I said, 'Yes, let’s do it.' Even down to organizing today, we just wanted to make it happen for him.”

“Our GCISD community is a family,” Schnautz said. “We rally around one another and support each other—that's just who we are. I am so appreciative and grateful that people from across the entire GCISD community had a part in Zakai’s story. This moment just exemplifies how special our community is.”