Mike Mulligan's $30,000 worth of tears of joy
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Nov 30, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

Mike Mulligan's $30,000 worth of tears of joy

St. Marys Journal Argus

Stew Slater

St. Marys Journal Argus

“I’ve never received anything from anybody. It’s just a shock to me . . . You’re my angel.”

Hearing those words, from a woman who very suddenly found herself with easy access into and out of a home inside which she had been virtually confined by physical disabilities for four years, left Mike Mulligan with tears in his eyes last month. It also left the St. Marys native, who himself relies on a wheelchair for mobility, with a deep understanding that he had just taken part in a once-in-a-lifetime, world-view-altering experience.

Just weeks after working with TD Canada Trust to realize his own dream of opening a work-out gym in London, Ontario, dedicated to people with physical limitations, Mulligan got a surprise visit from the banking institution in November. Bearing an access card for a time-limited account totalling $30,000, local small business banking advisor Shawn Timbeck dropped into the Moving Forward Rehabilitation and Wellness Centre and offered Mulligan a chance to — in the words of the unique promotional/philanthropy campaign being unrolled by TD Canada Trust — “make today matter.”

Twenty-four hours later, Mulligan and his bank had transformed the lives of two mobility-challenged London residents. For the creators of the Make Today Matter campaign, meanwhile, the story was so inspiring that it was chosen as one of three — out of a total of 24 similar $30,000 donations across Canada and the eastern US, where TD Canada Trust has branches — to be featured in the campaign’s official launch on Tuesday, Nov. 25 in New York City.

An online video about the campaign, including a section featuring Mulligan, had reached one million views within a day of its launch. By Saturday, it had reached 3.5 million views.

Speaking with the Journal Argus before heading to the Moving Forward gym on Saturday morning, Mulligan explained the story began when he hosted the grand opening for the Meadowbrook Drive fitness centre back in October. One of the guests was Timbeck who, unbeknownst to Mulligan, had advance information about the Make Today Matter campaign.

“I remember Shawn asked me at the time if I would mind taking part in a conference call with this company that was doing some research for the bank,” said the man who lost the use of his limbs in an automobile accident near St. Marys 18 years ago. “So I said sure. And I talked to them about growing up in St. Marys, and about (the accident), about going off to school and getting a job.”

For several years, Mulligan has been a project engineer at 3M in London — a post he still holds, thanks in part to what he describes as his very understanding and accommodating boss allowing him to work part-time while he gets the fitness centre up and running. But earlier in his career, Mulligan worked for the Ontario March of Dimes’ Home and Vehicle Modification program. In the conference call, Mulligan talked of how fulfilling it was to work with an organization that receives upper-level government funding to administer the application for and provision of mobility aids for people with disabilities.

“I learned from working with (the March of Dimes) how the littlest thing can change someone’s life,” he remembers saying during the conference call.

Mulligan promptly let the conversation slip to the back of his mind, thinking it was “just a survey, and I wouldn’t ever hear anything else about it.” But fast forward a few weeks, and Timbeck shows up at the gym holding out the $30,000 account card.

“We loved that story so much, we wanted to come back and see you today,” Timbeck says in a video entitled “Accessibility Reno Day” that was posted last week at http://maketodaymatter.td.com/.

The three-and-a-half minute video shows Mulligan’s surprise at receiving the offer, then quickly getting to work on deciding how to spend the cash. He said his first call was to the March of Dimes, in an effort to find out if there were any London residents (TD Canada Trust stipulated that the money be spent within the recipient’s community) who had somehow fallen through the cracks of the application system for mobility assistance funding.

“And my old boss said to me, ‘I don’t know what you think of this, but you worked with Miraflor when you were here, and I think she might fit into that category’.”

According to Mulligan, because the woman — who has polio and currently relies on a cane, but will someday need to switch to a wheelchair and had already given up descending the stairs to her children’s play room — is an employee of March of Dimes, policy prohibits her from qualifying for funding. So he decided to spend some of the money putting a chairlift on Miraflor’s staircase.

His next call was to the London office of MEDIchair, a mobility aid provider. From them, he found out about Rossa, who had been denied funding for a wheelchair because her home was not equipped with a ramp for safe entry and exit. She’s the woman who, near the beginning of the “Accessibility Reno Day” video, refers to Mulligan as her angel.

Those words were uttered before Mulligan led a crew of technicians and TD Canada Trust volunteers onto her property to assemble a type of wheelchair ramp that he says “fits together like Lego, but for adults.” After the ramp had been assembled and she had been wheeled down from her doorstep to be greeted by Mulligan holding a bouquet of flowers, Rossa’s reaction was even more emotional — simply, and through tears: “I have no words.”

The creators of the campaign were obviously similarly moved, since they chose Mulligan’s story as one of three out of 24 to be featured in a Make Today Matter official launch last Tuesday in New York. TD Canada Trust paid for the flight for Mulligan — as well as $30,000 recipients from Philadelphia (a formal gala for young women in foster care) and Miami (sports equipment for an impoverished neighbourhood) — for the event.

“Just sitting with those (other recipients) had such an effect on me,” Mulligan commented. “They were talking about kids with tragic stories like being involved in human trafficking or whatever. And in Miami, these kids were from a neighbourhood where it wasn’t even safe to go out and play sports . . . It was such an honour to be able to tell the stories of people who had their life changed by what seems like such a simple act (of installing a ramp).”

Up to that point, none of the recipients had seen the short videos that had been created — and were being uploaded that day to the Make Today Matter website — from the full days of footage taken weeks earlier. “Let me tell you, there were a lot of tears shed in that room (during the program launch),” Mulligan recalled.

Also as part of last week’s New York City launch, the three recipients and a team from TD Canada Trust visited a church that hosts volunteers each US Thanksgiving, fanning out across Harlem delivering holiday meals to those in need. The Make Today Matter crew stopped on the way to the church and bought 150 pies and 30 bags of clothing to add to the church’s Thanksgiving blessings.

The campaign creators “wanted to bring us together and kind of do it all over again by surprising this church for the day,” Mulligan said. His participation in that event can also be viewed on the Make Today Matter website.

Days after his return to London after his Big Apple experience, Mulligan is clearly still on an emotional high.

“I’ve been asked about it several times over the past few days, and the word I keep coming up with is ‘overwhelming’,” Mulligan said of the opportunity to take part in the Make Today Matter campaign. “It was a great experience to be involved in.”

But it’s a level of emotion that, perhaps, can’t quite equal what’s shown so clearly on Mulligan’s face at the conclusion of the Accessibility Reno Day video. “There’s good people in the world, and a lot of people don’t see that every day,” the St. Marys native says, through tears, at the end of the video. “This experience has shown me that.”

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