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New London - Thanks to 89 "friends," Ron Gaska and Sir Jasper Taylor will soon be tooling around town again.
Gaska and his Lhasa apso, who depend on his motorized wheelchair to get around New London, have been mostly housebound since early January, when a belt snapped and disabled Gaska's custom-made scooter.
Attempts by Gaska to have his insurance cover the cost of the repairs - estimated at $3,600 - became mired in bureaucracy, leaving the 48-year-old inside the Mohican Senior Apartments, where he resides for a good part of the winter.
When Facebook friend Laura Natusch realized why Gaska - a regular on city streets and at downtown events - wasn't around anymore, she established a crowdfunding effort to help get Gaska in motion again.
In 13 days, 89 people raised $3,643 online, most of it in small donations of $25 or $50.
Some people posted their names and others donated anonymously. The effort even brought together usual political adversaries.
Natusch, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio's new chief operating officer, is typically ridiculed by the city's anti-Finizio contingent. But when word of her campaign to help Gaska went public, even some of her most vocal critics not only donated to the cause, but helped to promote it.
"Some things transcend politics," said Kathleen Mitchell, a Finizio/Natusch critic who donated to the campaign and "threatened" others to do likewise.
"People may be pretty damned discouraged about the way things are going in New London, but this seemed like a great opportunity to come together and do something good," said Mitchell.
Finizio and one of his likely opponents in the 2015 mayoral election - Michael Passero - both donated.
As did people of all political stripes in the city. There were even donations from out of town and out of state.
"Of course, I'm happy that Ron and Sir Jasper will be riding around town this spring," said Natusch, of the successful effort. "But I'm also happy that Ron's cause united people from all segments of our city. It's a testament to Ron, whose decency and kindness touches anyone who knows him, but it's also a testament to our community. We might bicker about politics, but when someone is hurting, we all want to help."
Gaska said he was overwhelmed and grateful for all the well-wishes and donations.
"New London amazes me how they can come together in times of need," he said. "I'm not used to being in the spotlight and my phone was ringing off the hook."
New parts have been ordered for the wheelchair and Gaska believes he could be wheeling around the city again within a couple of weeks.
He's eager to return to volunteering at the senior center, where he helps out with bingo and the food bank, and to be able run errands like going to the pharmacy. And he knows 10-year-old Sir Jasper will be excited when they are able to visit city parks again.
"I'm really happy warmer weather is almost here as Sir Jasper and I spend many days at the parks and riverfront," said Gaska.
And, he promised that the duo will resume their old routine of making regular visits to the drive-through at the Dunkin' Donuts on Broad Street.
But mostly, Gaska, who has lived at the downtown Mohican apartments for 17 years after being injured in a work-related accident, is grateful to have his freedom again.
"I'm just very happy," he said.