Chris Cotreau teaches at Lowell School
It’s not his full-time job; that’s working as an instructional aide at the middle school in Watertown. But this is undoubtedly the highlight of the day.
“This is awesome. This is what I like to do,” said the life-long Arlington resident who spoke Thursday only with NewsCenter 5.
The kids love it, too.
“I really like doing woodworking a lot,” said 6-year-old Lizzi Horner, who spent Thursday working on a birdhouse.
Chris founded and has led this program despite a serious disability. He was nearly paralyzed in 1992 after accidentally diving into the shallow end of a pool.
He now gets around mostly in a wheelchair, though he can walk a short distance with the aid of crutches and a spotter.
This program, and his two service Labradors, Tanner and Dallas, just about saved him.
“I’d rather work,” Chris said when asked why he hasn’t relied on disability benefits. “I’ve always worked. I’ve never had any intention of sitting at home.”
But it’s getting difficult. Chris’ handicapped-accessible van, which cost tens of thousands of dollars, recently died on him.
It’ll cost at least $35,000 to replace.
“We started pricing, and I’m trying to think of how I’m going to get this money,” he said.
His friends, family and coworkers have been getting him to and from school and the woodworking program at Lowell. But he prides himself on his independence, and he knows he’ll eventually need to replace the van.
And that’s where this school community in Watertown enters the story.
Chris’ friend, Matt Urciuoli, started up a GoFundMe page to raise the money needed.
Chris didn’t even know Matt had done it, but within weeks, Chris’ coworkers, parents and students all began to pitch in. The site had raised close to $14,000 as of Thursday night.
And the school is determined to help him get there.
“If he couldn’t work here, I wouldn’t know what to do, because he’s the group I work with every time I come here,” said Angus Brouillard, an eighth-grader in Watertown who’s been coming to Chris’ woodworking program for nine years.
Chris is still $10,000 short of what he needs (he already has saved $10,000 of his own toward the cost). But he’s already humbled by how far they’ve come.
“I don’t really think about it,” Chris said. “And then when you see all these people giving back and saying all those nice things — it makes me feel good.”