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LINCOLN â€” Almost a month to the day after the van of her dreams had been stolen from her family home's driveway, Joan Malark hopes and prays that either Lincoln police officers find the vehicle, or the thieves return it.
Life hasn't been the same without it, stated Malark, a 61-year-old Saylesville resident who suffers a great deal of lower leg pain from her bout with multiple sclerosis.
â€ś(The crime) has caused us a lot of emotional pain,â€ť Malark said as she sat in her wheelchair Friday afternoon. â€śI didn't know how wonderful it would be or how it enhanced my life until it was gone. Not only that, but it brought my family together more often.
â€śMy husband (Dan, 55) and son (Mike, 23) would go to church with me, or they'd bring me shopping or to my doctor's appointments,â€ť she added. â€śNow I have to go separately from them. I have to make an appointment with the (Rhode Island Public Transportation's) RIDE program, and that only runs during the day.
â€śI'm shocked it hasn't been found; it's like it never existed. I've had opportunities to sing at the Lincoln Atria and other places, but I didn't have any transportation, so I couldn't get there.â€ť
Dan Malark, who works nights as a tech support provider for CVS/pharmacy's Business Integration Center in Smithfield, claimed he often goes looking for the silver 2000 Dodge Caravan before he heads to his job.
It was taken sometime during the early morning hours of Thursday, Sept. 8, just three months after the vehicle had been donated to the Malarks by Stanley and Laurie Bis of Blackstone.
They were aware of Joan's struggles with MS, and her love for singing solos at her church, Oasis of Grace Christian Fellowship just over the Pawtucket line in Providence.
The couple wanted to purchase a new vehicle, so Laurie, who works with Dan Malark, opted to give the old one away.
â€śI've checked mall and store parking lots, or I just drive up and down the streets of Lincoln, Central Falls and Pawtucket to search for it,â€ť he noted. â€śI saw something that looked like it once, but â€“ unfortunately â€“ it wasn't.
â€śI still can't believe I was in it after midnight,â€ť he continued. â€śI was installing a radio, and it must have been stolen two or three hours later, maybe sooner, after I walked into the house.â€ť
Stated Joan: â€śIt makes you think, 'Was someone watching us?'â€ť
The couple explained they're both devout Christians who regularly attend services at the fellowship on Smithfield Avenue, and Oasis of Grace currently is experiencing a revival.
â€śWe had guests, they're evangelists, come up from Virginia, and they've been praying for the van's return,â€ť Joan revealed. â€śEveryone tells me that God is going to bless me with something even better, and you know? I believe it. I do think so because I believe God wants only the best for me, for all of us, and that all things are for the good.
â€śThe MS is worse than ever, though,â€ť she added. â€śMy son has to pick me up and bring me outside to his car so he can bring me to the doctors, and he's suffered more and more soreness in his back. I think it's wearing on him. I have a lot more pain in my lower legs, and going on any RIDE van is a blessing, but it gives me more pain because of some of the jolts and roughness (during travel).
â€śI've probably spent over $80 over the past month for rides. I actually made an appointment to take a RIDE van to church this past Sunday, but the woman made a mistake, setting it up for Saturday. I couldn't go, and that hurts. I'm very active in my church, and I love everything associated it. It wasn't the woman's fault, God bless her.
â€śI think about not having the van every day. There are so many activities that I could be involved with at my church, like the worship team, which is like a choir; being there to receive the word (preachers' messages); or enjoying fellowship with all of my friends.â€ť
There is good news on the horizon, however. Her niece and godchild, Noel Barrette, currently is trying to formulate plans for a fundraiser, despite the fact she resides in Pennsylvania.
â€śI was shocked and saddenedâ€ť when she heard about the theft, Barrett said. â€śObviously, the van had work done to it to make it handicapped-accessible, and the thieves stole it knowing modifications had been made to accommodate someone with a disability.
â€śWhoever took this van knew they were stealing from someone less fortunate,â€ť she continued. â€ś(With a fundraiser), we're hoping to be able to purchase a new van, whether new or an older one in good condition, and (one) that can be fixed up so Joan can get back her freedom again.
â€śSo far, we've only spoken with family; we're at the early stages, trying to put together the venue and possible items to raffle off.â€ť
Joan mentioned she has spoken with her godchild, but has limited knowledge of any type of event that would ease her transportation issues.
â€śI don't know how far along she is, but I know it's in her heart to do something like that,â€ť said Joan, who when she was younger had been a nationally-recognized figure skater, not to mention skating coach. â€śMy little sister, Dawn McGovern, she lives in Cumberland, and I think she's helping out.
â€śMy heart's great desire is to be able to drive the van myself so I can be more independent,â€ť she added. â€śI know Dan's a little nervous about that, but he understands. I've got my driver's license to operate a 'hands-only' vehicle, as I had to take a driver's test with adaptable hand controls. I passed, so that would be wonderful.â€ť
She explained she wanted to connect with Vocational Rehabilitation of Pawtucket, a company that would modify a van so she could drive it.
â€śThey'll do it for free if you can prove certain conditions, like you need it to get to work,â€ť Dan said. â€śWhen she sings at outside agencies, she receives a stipend for appearing; it's not a lot, but it does help out our household. We call it a love offering, something that provides a little income, but we also know the van has to be two years old or less, or has less than 30,000 miles.â€ť
When asked how she's coping nowadays, with no apparent time line for the van's location, she smiled, â€śIt's God; I'm filled with the Holy Spirit. I find He keeps me positive, keeps me fighting against MS. I have no bitterness toward the people who took the van, even though I, we, have lost so much.â€ť
â€śBetween being a respiratory therapist and a figure skating coach/trainer, even if I stayed in my chair, I could still train young figure skaters,â€ť she continued. â€śI've got all this knowledge up here (in my mind), and I could just observe what the skaters are doing and explain to them how to improve. I'd love to get back to doing those things, but â€“ right now â€“ I can't.
â€śA van would open so many doors for me.â€ť
Offered Barrette: â€śJoan is an incredibly positive person, and she hasn't let this incident or her illness drag her down. Someone donated that vehicle to help Joan and her family, so I believe she realizes the generosity of others.â€ť