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A Van for Faith: Cook gets a surprise

By JORDAN PASCALE / Lincoln Journal Star | Posted: Saturday, September 25, 2010 9:50 pm.

It seemed like fate. Two families touched by tragedy united by chance for a happy surprise on a Saturday afternoon. Ten years ago, 16-year-old Daniel Sasich of Omaha was left paralyzed by a car accident. The tragedy tested his family, who adapted to their new life and bought a van to transport their son. Three years ago, a 39-year-old Lincoln woman named Kandi was partially paralyzed during a medical procedure. She now uses a wheelchair.

Faith Jensen hugs Beta Theta Pi's Kathryn Barker before she and her husband, Donald (left), receive the van keys from Mark Zach (right) of Mobility for Humanity. (ROBERT BECKER/Lincoln Journal Star)

In May, Daniel died from complications of pneumonia. It left a hole in his family but opened an opportunity for generosity. Through a series of chance meetings and a network of brothers, the van once used to help Daniel will now go to a family in need.

Faith Jensen, a slight woman of 95 pounds, has been the cook at Beta Theta Pi for a decade. Jensen's family has been through enough trauma, heartbreak and medical problems to fill several lifetimes. The cook and second mom to more than 60 frat brothers has Crohn's disease, which affects her digestive tract. It forces her to eat just two slices of deli meat for lunch daily - no bread or condiments - it's all she can process and it accounts for her tiny stature.

She's developed arthritis, making it difficult to carry vats of chili and boxes of frozen ribs. Her husband, Don, has congestive heart failure and asthma. He's had two knee replacements. He can't work because of his heart condition, making finances a problem. One grandchild has Leukemia, and another may as well. And then there is their daughter, Kandi Jensen. Dye got into her brain and paralyzed the right side of her body. The mother of two also suffers from seizures. She can't get around well, because her family has to lift her 150- pound frame into the car, collapse the heavy wheelchair, stow it in the trunk and undo the process when they get to their destination. It's a hassle, Faith says, because with her condition it's tough.

So three years ago, when Scott Barker, a Beta, heard about Faith's daughter's predicament, he asked his mother if she knew anyone with a handicap van. She didn't.

But a few months ago, when Mark Zach walked into the bank where Kathryn Barker worked and told her what he did for a living - working with wheelchair accessible vehicles - she remembered Faith, the cook and her son's second mom. Zach was in the process of creating a non-profit organization called Mobility for Humanity to connect needy families with donated handicap accessible vehicles. Meanwhile, Daniel Sasich's family was willing to donate their van to Zach.

The wheels started to turn, fate taking over. It was arranged for the van to be given to Faith and her daughter, but the gift kept secret. Then the fund raising started. Beta brothers and their parents wanted to make sure the van wouldn't be an expense. Thanks to donations from parents and others, more than $7,000 will help pay for the title, insurance and maintenance.

Saturday was Faith's birthday. It was also homecoming at Beta for the parents and alums. They gathered for food, said thanks to Faith, and sang happy birthday to her. "She's given so much to the fraternity, it was time to give back to her," Barker said. "You're a tremendous person with incredible internal strength and a heart of gold," Barker told Jensen. But there's one more thing...

In front of a room of frat brothers and family, Barker told Faith of the big surprise. Outside under a blue tarp and a ribbon was the Sasich's 2000 Ford Windstar with 24,000 miles. It's the first donation Zach has arranged.

As Faith stood surrounded by more than a hundred "family members," all she could do was cry, and say "thank you" - over and over.

It took a half hour before she could find words to express her emotion. She's amazed at the support of the brothers and their parents. "I'm so overwhelmed," Jensen said. "So thankful. So surprised!"

Daniel's family was there, too - his mother, Ann, showed Faith pictures of her son. "It gives Kandi her quality of life back," Jensen told the family. "I just wish she was here to see it, too." "Well that would've been a bit suspicious and given away the surprise," Barker replied. But she'll see it soon enough. And she'll cry tears of joy and be thankful just like her mother.

By JORDAN PASCALE / Lincoln Journal Star | Posted: Saturday, September 25, 2010 9:50 pm.

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