BOARDMAN Rabbi leads drive for funds to buy van for disabled man

The man said he has trouble getting to the doctor's office.
BOARDMAN -- Brian Bernat just wants to get out of the house and go shopping, catch a movie or enjoy the sun in one of the area's parks -- things most people take for granted.
Bernat, 40, of Fawn Court, has been confined mostly to his bedroom for the last several years with a host of medical problems. He is diabetic, legally blind, has two ruptured discs in his back and no longer has his right hip.
Because of his extensive medical problems, Bernat does not get out much at all, but with the help of a local rabbi, he is hoping to change that. Bernat and Rabbi Simeon Kolko of Congregation Ohev Tzedek in Boardman are asking local residents, businesses and church groups to donate money to a fund that will be used to buy Bernat a van that is wheelchair-accessible.
"I don't even get out and go to the doctor, that's how bad this is," he said. "Getting this van will give me back my life and at least allow me to get outside. I just want to get out and see the world."
Bernat does have a Jeep sport-utility vehicle, but his wheelchair cannot fit in the SUV. He is hoping to trade the Jeep in as a down payment toward the new van, should enough money be raised.
Has deal lined up
A deal has been worked out with an Austintown dealership to buy a new van at what Bernat calls a wonderful price. After the van has been bought, an additional $20,000 will be needed to add the necessary accessories to accommodate his wheelchair.
Kolko said some donations have come in, but about $30,000 is still needed to make Bernat's dream of a wheelchair-accessible van come true.
Bernat is not a member of Kolko's congregation. Kolko got involved in the campaign when Bernat called him after seeing an article in The Vindicator showing how Kolko's synagogue was made handicap-accessible.
Kolko said the response to Bernat's situation will define the community.
"I am hoping, through the generosity of the community, to generate the resources Brian needs to have a better quality of life. I am trying to rally the community around one of its own and give everyone the chance to respond as a caring community," Kolko said.
Kolko said some people will have questions about the legitimacy of the campaign and Bernat's need for the van. But, he said, Bernat has done all he can for himself and the van is a definite necessity for his daily life.
Son will drive him
A recent setback to his life was the death of his wife. Bernat said his 18-year-old son would be able to drive him around if he has the van.
Bernat worked in retail and in real estate and spent his spare time doing photography.
Donations may be made at any Sky Bank or sent to P.O. Box 3753, Boardman, Ohio 44513.

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