THE COLONY — Tears fell on more than a handful of cheeks as high school senior Brian Bravo was rolled out of a brand-new Dodge van at a surprise ceremony Friday morning at The Colony High School.
The moment had finally arrived.
After months of fundraisers and promoting awareness about the single-car crash that changed the Bravo family’s lives forever, the community was able to present the family with not only a rear-loading, wheelchair-accessible van provided by BraunAbility and Ally Financial but also a check for $25,000 that had been used to set up a trust fund to assist the family to care for Bravo in the future.
Among the cheering crowd of students, faculty members and friends was the high school senior who captured everyone’s hearts with his infectious smile. Brian Bravo smiled broadly and was seen grinning at his little brother, Nicki, as the band began to play.
Brian Bravo’s father, Jose Bravo, said he was shocked by the overwhelming support for his son and family. He thought he was coming to school to sign papers so Brian, now 21, could graduate from high school on June 8.
Jose Bravo said his son was “just a skinny boy” when he was first injured in the crash, but now is a grown man who is harder to transport.
“As I am getting older and he is bigger, things are hard and this [new vehicle] will make things much easier,” Jose Bravo said Friday morning. “I had no idea what was going on. ... I thought I was coming for a graduation awards ceremony and I needed to be here to sign off on some things for him to graduate.”
Coach Cleve Ryan and fundamental life skills teacher Kristen Crenshaw were more than excited to see their efforts come to fruition, and they thanked everyone who contributed in surpassing their “ultimate goal.”
“It’s always nice to have a happy ending,” Crenshaw said. “To be able to start something and finish it.”
Ryan said it all started in September when Brian Bravo’s passion for sports brought him to introduce Brian’s story to the basketball team. The team, he said, quickly took him in as one of their own and soon the student was dubbed “Coach Brian.”
The “Bravo4Brian” campaign quickly spread from the school to the entire Lewisville school district. Everything from bracelets to T-shirts were sold to raise funds and just Tuesday evening, a “Bravo4Brian” night was held at Texas Roadhouse in The Colony where $3,000 was raised, Ryan said.
The coach said they had hoped to raise enough money to buy a van. When the van was donated, they were able to use the money to set up the trust fund.
“After being told his story and seeing his situation made us [the basketball team] value life more,” said Darrell Hymes, a sophomore. “Tomorrow is not promised for any of us. His story was inspiring and has taught me and the others [on the team] to value life more.”
In 2005, Brian Bravo was 13 years old and on the way home from a family summer vacation in Mexico when his family’s sport utility vehicle began to have mechanical failures in the wee hours of the morning on their way back home to Texas.
The driver lost control and the vehicle rolled multiple times. A trucker discovered the accident near Monterrey, Mexico, and called for help.
Brian had been ejected from the vehicle and was critically injured. His mother, Maria Elena Castañeda, his uncle Genio Castañeda, and his sister, Cindy, were pronounced dead at the hospital. Bravo’s little brother, Nicki, suffered broken bones, and Cindy’s baby was found in a car seat with scrapes and bruises.
Jose Bravo was still in Denton County at the time because of work commitments. He learned his son was paralyzed from the neck down and quickly made the needed adjustments to ensure he could care for his two sons.
For Crenshaw, the one lesson learned from Ryan after months of organizing Bravo4Brian events is not to shoot small. Anything can happen and, as a teacher, she is excited the future is so bright for her student.
After months of searching for the perfect day program for Brian Bravo to attend after he graduates, they are planning to visit Special Abilities of North Texas on Wednesday to guarantee that’s the right place.
“They will get him out into the community and that’s what he wants, he doesn’t like to be holed up someplace inside,” she said. “If it’s what we like, all that will be left to do is to sign the paperwork.”
Jose Bravo said he is excited about seeing his son graduate and what the future holds.
“The day program will keep him going,” he said.
And, while the ceremony may be over, Ryan hopes the showering of love from the community will continue.
“Right now we are just taking it all in, but we hope the donations continue to support Brian,” he said. “It’s important to remember how Brian has not only impacted so many lives at school, but all around us within the community. ... I thank everyone who has donated. It’s all for him.”
MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.