Fundraiser underway to buy new wheelchair accessible van for East Tennessee teen

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MORRISTOWN, Tenn. (WJHL) — Around Morristown, there’s hardly anyone more well-known than Jake Stitt.

“He’s a celebrity,” said Michael Abbott, Jr., a native of the East Tennessee town who’s now winning fame as an actor in New York City.

“Jake sits outside the house and has a sign that says ‘honk if you’re happy,'” Abbott said. “He’s an incredible young man.”

PHOTO: Jake Stitt waves to people who drive by his home. Years ago, his family put up a sign that reads “Honk if You are Happy” as a way of helping Jake connect with and encourage his community. (Photo submitted by Stitt family)

Jake’s father Tim Stitt says it started years ago as a way for his wheelchair-dependent son to connect with the neighbors who passed by their house.

“It started out just a little cardboard sign, him just sitting out there holding it on a stick saying ‘honk if you are happy,”‘ Stitt said. “Just to see how many honks we can get as they go by.”

Jake’s now 17 years-old and his sign still gets reaction and still helps people who drive by.

“We heard horns all day and all night long,” Tim said with a laugh. “Fortunately, the neighbors don’t mind.”

“I can’t tell you the number of people who said, ‘You’ll never know how that turned my life around…to get to meet you and have your smile.'”

But recently, word got out that the person everyone loves to drive by needs a little help getting himself around town.

Jake’s cerebral palsy means he depends on a wheelchair and on his dad to get him to school, to doctor visits, and to therapy.

“We have a regular van,” Tim said. “Jake depends on us to get him in and out of the van, so we have to physically pick him up out of the wheelchair and put him in the van.”

That’s taken a toll on Tim’s body. Doctors want to do surgery on the military veteran whose back is in such bad shape he’s now on disability. But Stitt says surgery isn’t an option because the recovery period would leave him unable to help his son.

PHOTO: Jake Stitt depends on his father Tim to lift him in and out of the family’s non-accessible van. (Photo submitted by Stitt family)

“I can’t imagine being placed in a position of having to choose between my own health and safety and my son’s,” Michael Abbott, Jr. said.

Word about Jake’s predicament reached Abbott who just released a new movie called “The Dark and the Wicked” and most recently starred in the show “Fear the Walking Dead.”

“It’s a horrible, horrible circumstance to have to navigate,” Abbott said. “And it doesn’t have to be that way. As fathers, mothers, grandparents we try to do everything we can for our kids. Our kids are all we have.”

Abbott was so moved when he heard Jake and his dad, he called the Stitt’s to see what he could do to help.

The solution: raise the money to buy a wheelchair accessible van.

PHOTO: Michael Abbott, Jr. on the set of “Fear the Walking Dead”, a recent project for the Morristown native who now lives in New York City. (Photo from Instagram: michaelabbottjr1 )

“I made a commitment to Tim that we would raise the money that needed to be raised by Thanksgiving,” Abbot said.

Abbott worked with Superior Van and Mobility in Knoxville to find a fully equipped van for the discounted rate of $35,000. The company recently took the van to Morristown to let Jake test it out.

Jake Stitt recently got to test out a new wheelchair accessible van that he may be able to use if a GoFundMe campaign raises $35,000. (Photo submitted by Stitt family).

Friends set up a GoFundMe account that’s growing by the day as word spreads about this chance to help Jake.

LINK: GoFundMe account for Jake’s new van.

“Being from East Tennessee, I know people have big hearts,” Abbott said. “And the generosity that pours out of that community is unheard of. So I know people will come forward and do what they know is right.”

For Jake and his dad, it’s now is about something bigger than a new vehicle and better mobility.

“To feel the love coming from people we don’t even know and people that we do know – it’s just amazing,” Tim Stitt said. “There’s so many good people out there.”

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