Published March 08. 2014 4:00AM
New London - Ron Gaska and Sir Jasper want to get rolling again and may be able to as a result of a crowdfunding effort intent on raising the $3,600 necessary to repair belts and wheels on Gaska's custom-made, motorized wheelchair.
Gaska and his Lhasa Apso are fixtures around the city, but have mostly been confined to their apartment at the Mohican Senior Apartments since Jan. 3, when a belt snapped on the scooter and momentarily stranded Gaska and his dog in a raging snowstorm.
Gaska was able to call a friend who pushed the chair inside, but cutting through red tape to get the scooter fixed hasn't been so easy.
According to Gaska, who is on Social Security disability, the state paid $37,000 several years ago for the wheelchair, but will not ante up the $3,606 to replace the busted wheels and belts.
Gaska never made an issue of the problem, but when a Facebook friend inquired where he'd been, he told her he was immobile as a result of his broken scooter.
So Thursday night Laura Natusch set up an account on Go Fund Me to appeal to people through social media to help Gaska raise the funds to fix his chair. Seventeen hours into the effort, 16 donors had contributed $430. Those interested in donating should go to www.gofundme.com/7crkwg.
"Oh my God, I don't like handouts," Gaska said on Friday afternoon of the crowdfunding effort.
But he's tired of being housebound.
"I volunteer at the senior center on Thursdays, I'm the bingo caller on Thursdays, but I haven't been able to get there, and people keep asking for me," he said. "And I haven't been able to go to the doctor, or the pharmacy, or to the waterfront park. I just have to stay close to the building now."
For 17 years, Gaska has lived at the downtown Mohican apartments.
He was injured in a work-related accident in 1992, and again several years ago when he was hit in his wheelchair at Bank and State streets.
In the first accident, Gaska, a phlebotomist with a Norwich company at the time, was on the job when a tractor-trailer jackknifed in Watertown and he drove into the wreck with his vehicle. He suffered multiple injuries and as a result his health declined.
After the second mishap, his doctor ordered the customized wheelchair to accommodate Gaska's needs and his large size.
Gaska, who will turn 49 in May, said he initially started to work with a vendor to make the wheelchair repairs until he was told his insurance wouldn't cover the costs since the scooter is a custom model.
He said his efforts to clarify the situation with the state have failed.
"They won't even tell you their names and you can't get through to them," he said. "It's very frustrating."
The Day was unable to reach someone in the state Department of Social Services late Friday afternoon.
But social media did light up with posts and comments from people supporting the crowdfunding effort.
"I just wanted to help," said Natusch, who was recently named Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio's chief operating officer, explaining her involvement.
She's not a personal friend of Gaska's but had seen him around the city and admired his even-handed comments on Facebook.
"He's never snarly, always civil," she said.
So when he told her why he wasn't out and about anymore, Natusch turned to crowdfunding. She set up the account, wrote a brief narrative of Gaska's situation, and asked for support.
Other people shared her post on Facebook or tweeted it.
"Life hasn't given Ron a lot of breaks," she wrote "... He's not a whiner, but right now, more than he's let on, he needs his community to step up and pitch in."
What will it mean to Gaska if his wheelchair is repaired?
"I'll have my life back," he said. "Everyone in New London knows the guy in the wheelchair with the dog. I can get out and about again."