Deb Buenaga: Helping children with special needs through Preston’s March for Energy
In August 2011 Deb Buenaga’s son, Preston, who suffers from Mitochondrial Disease, received a specially-adaptive bike from a family friend’s fundraiser. The bicycle cost a hefty $2,200.
“When Preston rode his bike for the first time, for an hour and a half, his dad Steve and I knew that other children deserved the same opportunity,” says Buenaga. “We knew that we needed to ‘pay it forward.’”
This motivated her to launch Preston’s March for Energy just two months later, while still juggling fulltime caretaking responsibilities for Preston. She quit her job as a preschool teacher and now dedicates upwards of 50 hours a week to the cause, and while she qualified for a Longwood Foundation grant for an administrative assistant, Buenaga herself makes approximately $5 an hour. She is backed up by 30-35 active volunteers.
The nonprofit provides adaptive bikes to children and young adults ages 6 to 21 with special needs who can’t ride a typical bike. Each adaptive bicycle is built and customized for the individual who will ride it. Preston’s March works with various bike vendors, raising money for families through events like Corks and Cookies, a yearly 5K, and corporate and individual sponsors, since insurance does not cover the cost of an adaptive bike. A family will apply through the website—prestonsmarch.org—and Preston’s March will collaborate with that child’s medical team to create the perfect bike, down to painting the bicycle the child’s favorite color.
“Today I was incredibly blessed to be able to make a child smile who has thyroid and lung cancer,” says Buenaga. “But he also has a dream to ride a bike like his brother and sister and friends. He cannot ride a typical bike because sitting up and balancing makes him tired and with a tracheotomy he has troubles breathing. I presented him with a bike that he can lie down with and pedal with his feet. He told his mom to Velcro him in his bike so nobody can take him off it.”
Buenaga and her family spend their weekends or vacation time presenting bikes all over the country. Last month she and Preston road-tripped to Green Bay, Wis., to surprise a family with two bicycles. She and Preston have put 28,000 miles on a donated van in less than a year.
“We all open our eyes in the morning the same way—some of us not as easy as others,” she says. “Some may be suffering with a disease, some may be a caregiver and first thing they do is care for a loved one who needs them. But the one thing we have in common is to make it to the end of the day the best that we can. My choice is to go to bed every night and know I made someone smile.”