Holland woman wins wheelchair-accessible van in national Local Hero promotion, first from West Michigan

Posted at 5:25 PM, Jul 13, 2015
and last updated 2015-07-13 17:25:05-04

HOLLAND, Mich. – After a car accident left her unable to walk, a Holland woman said she will be able to drive again.

For the first time, a West Michigan contestant won the annual national mobility awareness month Local Hero promotion, where people across the country enter to win a wheelchair-accessible van. Collene Van Noord said her family saw FOX 17’s report back in May during Mobility Awareness Month, and then entered her story. She is one of four winners nationwide.

Van Noord is an accomplished educator who recently retired as a superintendent. She said, “once an educator, always an educator,” as she continues to reach out to others and share her story in hopes to help and inspire people with spinal cord injuries.

“There’s good in everything,” said Van Noord. “As awful as something could be, you look for the good in it, and you try the best that you can to help other people and to care about them, because even though it happened to you, it happened to everybody else around.”

Van Noord is inspiring to say the least. A retired educator and superintendent, she said teaching is her passion. Now she’s committed to giving resources to others with spinal cord injuries and encouragement; beginning with her mindset about moving forward after her serious accident.

“[It was a] tough time, you don’t want to think or dwell on that too much because the ‘what if’s’ and ‘oh my’s’ don’t change anything,” said Van Noord.

“So there’s no mileage whatsoever in looking back and saying, ‘well if this hadn’t happened then maybe this wouldn’t have.’ It’s done, it’s over with, and what we can do now is pick-up and move forward,” she said.

A little more than six months after retiring, another driver hit Van Noord’s car just down the street from home. Then she began her road to recovery with so many questions.

“My sister being in the room with me in the ER and talking to me, I could hear what she was saying, I thought those ideas were going through my own head, about how you’re strong, and how you can overcome anything; I thought I was saying those things to myself, like well of course,” said Van Noord.

One year after the accident, she started her blog this March: she writes her thoughts, shares spinal cord injury information, and current research.

“I am an educator on all things, but in particular I guess this has become more of a passion for me and this will not go away,” said Van Noord.

When she shared some of her story on the Local Heroes contest in May, Van Noord was one of the contestants with the top 10-percent of votes across the country. Now she’s earned from NMEDA a brand new Toyota Sienna of her choice, with a Braun Ability conversion.

Speaking with Kadi DeHaan from Clock Mobility, Van Noord said, “This is more than a car!”

Very grateful, Van Noord said this custom-fit van is giving her part of her life, and mobility, back.

“It’s a huge big deal to get that back, and be able to go places and to see things and do that with independence,” said Van Noord. “To have that back again is priceless, it really is priceless, you can’t put a dollar figure on that.”

Van Noord is working closely with DeHaan and Clock Mobility, getting fitted and learning about the technology that goes into converting her new van. NMEDA expects to give Van Noord the keys to her van to mid-August.

Congratulations to Collene Van Noord, West Michigan’s Local Hero.

The month of May marks Mobility Awareness Month. Each year, NMEDA runs their national Local Hero promotion where contestants can win a wheelchair-accessible vehicle. For more information on when to enter for next year, see