Mentoring is Peoria man’s dream

Joseph Martinez is paralyzed from the chest down after a 2011 driving accident. (Joseph Martinez/Submitted)

Eleven years after shattering his C5 vertebrae in a diving accident, Joseph Martinez is hoping fellow Peoria residents will help him ease his transportation burden.

Paralyzed from the chest down, 35-year-old Martinez has set up a GoFundMe to raise $15,000 for a wheelchair-accessible vehicle. As of July 17, the public has donated $3,800 through https://bit.ly/JoeMartinezWheelchair.

“I didn’t realize how many people around me were so willing to help,” he said.

Having a vehicle would shorten his three-hour commute to and from work at Peckham, a national passport information center, and allow him to become more independent.

“Though I live in Peoria, the job is off of the I-17 and Thunderbird Road,” said Martinez, who is considered paraplegic because he has limited use of his arms and hands.

“The commute is literally almost three hours there and three hours back, and I work four hours a day.”

To get to work, Martinez schedules a vehicle from Peoria Dial-a-Ride every day. He takes it as far as he can and then catches the city bus the remainder of the ride.

When he returns home, he takes the city bus and then manually drives his electric chair 2 miles home. If it is too hot or too cold, his mother picks him up.

“There is no way I would be here without my mom. … I love my momma,” he said.

Driving to Independence in Tempe is helping Martinez obtain his modified Toyota Sienna. First, he must take 20 hours of driving lessons accompanied by an instructor. Once the vehicle is fully modified, he will be required to take 20 more hours of driving lessons with the instructor before he has full ownership of the car.

For insurance to cover the modifications, the vehicle must be a specific model and year and fit his wheelchair. The insurance will cover the vehicle modifications, and Martinez covers the other half.

“My instructor said it can take anywhere from three months to six to nine months. It just depends on how fast insurance is and, in my experience, insurance doesn’t move very fast,” said Martinez, whose accident was June 2, 2011, in South Carolina.

He’s hoping to raise $15,000 through the GoFundMe. It’s a cost that he can’t afford on his own.

“I have always been very independent and almost a little too proud, where I do not like asking for help,” he said. “When I do, I always set the bar really low.”

The original goal was $1,000.

The Peoria man is working toward his bachelor’s degree in computer programming at Glendale Community College. He hopes to earn it within 18 months.

Although he enjoys his job at Peckham, he hopes to work in his chosen field. When he is not working or going to class, he enjoys gaming and spending time with his two dogs, Sasha and Sandy.

In five years, he hopes to be more independent.

“There are a lot of people just like me who do not have the support system that I have,” Martinez said.

Among them is Ability 360, which provides fitness programs that promote independence, health and overall well-being of people with disabilities and their family members.

He would like to mentor others with spinal cord injuries, but transportation is a problem.