Mantua – Author Leo Buscaglia is quoted as saying, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” Never has that statement been truer, than in the case of fifth grader Mathieu Arotin, a young man inflicted with a disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) type II. Due to his disease, Mathieu is confined to a power wheelchair, but to say that Mathieu suffers from this disease would be a false statement. While it’s true that Mathieu needs his wheelchair, that chair doesn’t confine his spirit, or define who he is. Instead, those who know him are struck first by his broad smile, and immediately feel the warmth of his positive outlook as he comes cruising down the halls at Crestwood Intermediate School (CIS). 

Mathieu’s infectious smile and positive presence fueled fellow CIS students, as well as a host of community members to hold the first-ever CIS Talent Show recently, where students had the opportunity to showcase their gifts to help their friend and classmate, Mathieu. Afterwards, his mother, Neeka Arotin shared her thoughts, saying,  “Last night, we learned how much the community loves Mathieu. No one ever imagined that an idea of a talent show would have amounted to over 30 amazing acts preformed by his peers, that 56 wanted to show their love and support for him. No one ever imagined that it would have been a packed house of 500 people, some even standing and not one complaint about it. To all the people that have donated their time, their energy, donations of all kinds, and kind words about Mathieu, we cannot say thank you enough!”

Yes, by all counts, the Talent Show was an amazing success. What began as an idea by a few Girl Scouts and their leaders blossomed into a community-wide effort that raised over $8,000 toward the purchase of a much-needed wheelchair accessible van for the Arotin family. Neeka Arotin continued, “I used to say I lived in Mantua and knew nothing about it. Now I can proudly say, ‘I live in the amazing community of Mantua where people come together and support one another!’ I am so proud to live in Mantua — to be surrounded by such amazing people and have the opportunity to develop friendships all because of Mathieu!”

Girl Scout leader Wendy Wilson echoed those thoughts, “The community really came together to support this wonderful young man and his beautiful family.” Her fellow Girl Scout leaders Karen Flowers, Tracie Quiggle, and Angie Hager worked together to make the Talent Show, bake sale, and Chinese auction a success.  Groups and individuals, including the Crestwood Schools Transportation staff, L’Oreal, Nestles, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, and Napa Auto Parts, donated a total of 39 gift baskets. There were gift certificates from McDonalds, The Leopard restaurant, Mantua Corners Bar & Grill, Woodside Lake Park, and more. Individuals and Girl Scout troops donated baskets as well. In addition, two beautiful handmade quilts and a bicycle were donated, helping to raise funds for the family through a silent auction. “It was such a beautiful thing to see the community coming together to support the amazing Arotin family!” continued Wilson. “They are so inspirational!”

“I would like to make note of the incredibly positive influence the Arotin family has had on our community,” shared Scout leader Karen Flowers. “Mathieu and his family are such an inspiration, which was so apparent by the crowd that evening. Mathieu’s every day smile and positive attitude are contagious! The evening could not have been such a success without the huge number of people that stopped their everyday lives to contribute to the evening and help our friend, Mathieu.”

“It was amazing,” shared Girl Scout leader Angie Hagar. “I do not believe that any of us dreamed it would ever turn out like it did — the outpouring of our wonderful community, the businesses that donated to this event, and most of all the students. I am so proud of everyone that was involved!”  Scout leader Tracie Quiggle summed it up, saying, “Our troops are very proud to have been part of such a wonderful event and we were thrilled to learn that we had raised over $8,000 for Mathieu’s family. We are so proud of our community as well, without whose support we wouldn’t have had such great success.  Crestwood rocks!”

If you missed the fabulous event, but feel compelled to support the cause, direct monetary donations can still be made to the Mathieu Arotin Van Fund at any Woodforest National Bank branch, including the branch located within the Aurora Wal-Mart.