By Melissa Fili
MethuenLife Writer

Six-year-old Jessa Moniz is a miracle girl “who sparkles wherever she goes” with an infectious laugh and a nonstop smile.
Her family would love for Jessa to spread that sunshine while riding in a safe, comfortable, wheelchair van. She is outgrowing her car seat, and moving her between the wheelchair and that seat carries a risk of injury to both Jessa and her parents Jacinta and Joe.

At just 4 weeks old, Jessa Moniz contracted the common respiratory virus RSV which led to respiratory arrest, leaving her unable to walk or speak. Now 6 years old, she loves to laugh, swim and watch “Barney.” Friends are hosting a fund-raiser to help the family of 6 buy a wheelchair van. Courtesy photos

During weekly medical appointments, it’s a struggle for Jacinta to lift and store Jessa’s heavy chair in the car trunk.
But wheelchair vans can cost around $90,000, the Monizes have discovered – a price truly out of reach for their family of six.
Relatives and friends are organizing Jessa’s Journey (see box) on Aug. 27 at the Lawrence Elks to raise money for a wheelchair van. All are welcome, including families.
At just 4 weeks old, Jessa developed RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus), a very common childhood illness. She was later MedFlighted to Boston Children’s Hospital after she stopped breathing. Jessa survived, but was left with permanent neurological damage; she cannot speak or walk.
But that has not dimmed the CGS first-grader’s light!
“She’s always smiling and so happy,” says mom Jacinta (Avendano), who has lived in Methuen most of her life. “She loves to laugh. She’s nonverbal, but she understands everything!”

“She loves her dolls and teacups,” explains Jessa’s grandmother, longtime Methuenite Debbie Powell, who retired to help the family. “She knows every one of her dolls. She speaks through her eyes. You have to watch her expressions. We line her dollies up around the room and ask, ‘Where’s Beth?’ ‘Where’s Baby Stella?’ and she looks right at them.”
Jessa also adores her brothers – Jordan, 8, and Joseph, 10, who attend the Marsh School, and Jayden, 14, who goes to Greater Lawrence Tech. They are her “warrior guardians,” Powell proudly states.
While she has seriously considered returning to work to help financially support the family, mom Jacinta realizes that now is not the time. She stays home to care for Jessa who relies on 24/7 personal care and has weekly medical appointments. Jessa is very susceptible to viruses and has very weak lungs, so keeping her healthy is a top priority for Jacinta.
The family has never asked for financial help before, but this van would “100 percent” improve their lives, Jacinta says, as their current transportation situation is “a struggle.”

The Moniz family is hoping to buy a wheelchair van where Jessa can safely travel with her parents and three brothers.

“They’re a great hard-working family and if you’re ever fortunate enough to meet Jessa, you’ll see how adorable and precious she really is,” said West District Councilor Mike Simard, a family friend. “This fund-raiser is a chance for our community to rally around Jessa and her family to raise the money needed to buy a wheelchair van to help her navigate through her daily life. Please help this great cause and donate!”
Family members say they appreciate the support they’ve already received from event organizers, local businesses and the community.
“We are so grateful for everything,” Powell said.

The community is invited to this fund-raiser which supports the Moniz family in their quest to buy a wheelchair van for the safety of their disabled 6-year-old daughter, Jessa. Jessa’s Journey will be held Sunday, Aug. 27 from 1-6pm at the Lawrence Elks. There will be music by Gravity Men featuring Gravity Girl (also known as Marsh School art teacher Lauren Gagnon), plus food, raffles and a 50/50. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased by calling Edna Leach at (603) 508-8236 or Deb Powell at (978) 457-1183. If you can’t make the event, but would like to donate, send checks made out to Jessa’s Journey to M&T Bank,148 Lowell St., Methuen, MA 01844, Attn: Jessa’s Journey. You can also like the Jessa’s Journey page on Facebook, where you’ll find a QR code to make a direct donation.