The tires pop in summer. The touch-screen Connor Gill, 18, uses to communicate with the world is held on with a rubber band. The "brains" of the chair broke down around Thanksgiving, leaving Gill stranded for 10 weeks as his father repeatedly called New Zealand to get the company to honor their warranty.
Even Friday night, as Gill moved among the crowd at a fundraiser to get him a new motorized wheelchair, he was puttering along at about 50-percent power.
Insurance bought the chair that is Gill's sole means of moving among the world, but doesn't cover repairs. But the friends and neighbors who organized the "Have a Heart for Connor" fundraiser at Summit Hill Junior High had to do it in secret.
They knew the Gill family would turn it down.
"They always think that there's somebody who needs it more than they do," said Connie Blondin, one of the neighbors who organized fundraiser to gather the $38,000 Connor needs for a new chair.
Lincoln-Way North graduate Connor Gill, 18, was born with a spate of health problems, including arthrogryposis, scoliosis, hydronephrosis and prune belly syndrome. He is confined to a wheelchair and has a verbal impairment as well.
Until Christmas 2010, he communicated by typing words on a DynaVox speech synthesiser using a pointer attached to a hat. That Christmas, he got an iPod touch he can use to text message.
"It's a whole new world for him," his mother Jennifer said. "I have conversations with my 18-year-old son. It's been a joy."
And yet Connor is a fixture in the neighborhood, always traveling around in his motorized chair, heading out to 7-11 and just visiting people, Blondin said.
"Connor's just, he's everwhere in our neighborhood," Blondin said. "He's such an inspiration because he never lets things get to him."
"People love him because he just puts smiles on their faces," Connor's father Jim Gill said. "Because no matter how hard of a day they're having, he drives up and he's smiling ear to ear and making jokes and it's hard to stay in a bad mood when you have a kid in a wheelchair and he comes up smiling and laughing."
That's part of what made it so difficult for Connor when the chair broke.
The last few years have been hard ones for the Gills. The insurance from Jim's union doesn't cover durable medical equipment like the wheelchair and, even with Jennifer working two jobs, the mounting costs of the chair started adding up once the warranties started expiring.
"If a motor goes down for $2,000, we have to come up with that money for that," Jim said.
Blondin and several other neighbors wanted to help—but the Gills turned them down cold.
"I said, 'No, no. I have a job. I have two jobs. I'll take care of it,'" Jennifer said.
So the neighbors took away the Gills' choice in the matter. They organized Friday night's event and planned sales and fundraising events at Lincoln-Way East and in every Summit Hill School District school through the month of February.
"We had this all planned before they even knew about it," Blondin said, chuckling.
Blondin also writes a blog for Patch about Have a Heart for Connor events.
On Christmas Day, they told the Gills what they had done.
"Connie came over on Christmas Day and she just said, 'I know you said no, but we've already done it, it's decided and that's just too bad,'" Jennifer said.
"We've had a lot of crying nights since we realized about this," Jim said. "That people in these economic dire straits, people are putting out so much, effort, money, time."
As for Blondin, she said the organizers just thought it was the natural thing.
"This is what communities do," she said.
Correction: This story initially said Connor Gill was a Lincoln-Way East graduate. He attended Lincoln-Way North.