Three days before Christmas — and three months and two days after suffering a debilitating spinal cord injury on the South Gwinnett High School football field — Arquevious Crane came home.
He came home to a red-brick, four-bedroom house in a picturesque Loganville subdivision with neatly manicured lawns. The house was a gift — talk about great Christmas presents — from the Snell family of E.R. Snell Contractors Inc., a clan with a heart the size of the Comets’ football field named after business co-founder Richard Snell.
But it was more than that. The $225,000 house is a tangible symbol of the charity of a community that wiped its collective tears and let its compassionate spirit burst through after Crane was felled on Sept. 20.
Less than 24 hours after the 16-year-old was carted off the field on a stretcher during a junior varsity game, forces in and around Snellville galvanized as if organized by an event planner.
Only it was not. It was organized chaos, thoughtful people frantic to aid an unsuspecting kid and devastated family. There were fund-raisers and benefits, letters and e-mails, flowers and prayers.
“Our family is so grateful,” said Barbara Crane, Arquevious’ grandmother, who adopted him as a youth. “You don’t know what to expect from people when something like this happens. But you don’t expect this. It has really moved our hearts that people not only care so much, but that they have given so much. It means a lot.”
Arquevious Crane speaks in soft tones and a methodical cadence. And he smiles a lot. “No, I didn’t know I had so many friends,” he said. “I’m just grateful. People have been great. From the beginning, every day, people show their support.
Why would strangers be so unbelievably generous? “The belief in Jesus Christ and that we are supposed to help folks,” said Chris Snell, an executive with E.R. Snell, which was started in 1923 in Gwinnett County. “My family and this company always have given back. [Crane’s] injury was a big hurt to the community.”
Snell could relate to Crane’s plight like few others. When he was 19, the 50-year-old Snell suffered a spinal cord injury on the job and remains paralyzed from the chest down.
Said Snell, who visited Crane when he was at the Shepherd Center: “I know what he’s facing — and his family.” Which was more reason for the Snell family to want the Cranes out of their rented home in Snellville, where they could not make renovations to accommodate a wheelchair.
After the Snells purchased the house, Bowen Family Homes of Duluth emerged to donate labor and materials to renovate the bathrooms, widen the doorways and add ramps to make the new home wheelchair serviceable.
Then there was Britt’s Home Furnishing on U.S. 78, which donated a washer, dryer and dishwasher. Brownlee’s Furniture of Lawrenceville contributed living room and dining room furniture. Signature Gallery Furniture of Snellville donated a bed, mattress and box spring.
Additionally, Southern Sanitation of Loganville provided free service for a year. The Snells paid for the house outright and will pay all utility bills at the residence for an “unlimited” time.
“Amazing,” said Dana Doster, the outgoing president for the South Gwinnett Touchdown Club, a group of parents and volunteers who support the football program. The organization has not experienced such a massive fund-raising and support effort.
Doster was the facilitator of many of the events that have comforted the Crane family. Once the magnitude of Crane’s injury was known, Doster went on a personal crusade to raise money and find resources to help the football player and his grandmother and four younger siblings.
She went house-hunting with Barbara Crane for four days. She helped her pack for the move. She organized benefits and facilitated support from local individuals and companies.
“Why? Because I’m a mother,” Doster said simply. She has two children: Ashley, 22, and Chris, a senior on the Comets’ team this season.
She knew Crane, who is called “Q” by most everyone, as a fun-loving, always-smiling South football player. Doster said she knows him better now, having visited him regularly.
Doster and Jamie Britt, the new South Gwinnett Touchdown Club president, also set up the Arquevious Crane Assistance Fund at Wachovia Bank. Doster estimates there is $48,000 in the account, with many donors telling her personally “that their contribution should be used for Q’s future medical needs,” she said.
Trust company sought; giving doesn’t stop
This is where this feel-good story gets testy. Barbara Crane, 62, said she has concerns over the lack of access to the money raised, saying Doster has prevented her from using some of it for family purposes.
“I know of cases where people have said they donated money for the family, but the family has not received it,” Barbara Crane said. “People have been great and we are very thankful. But if people’s intention is for some of the money to help the family, then that’s what should happen.”
Doster’s retort: “I know of donors who gave me checks for $10,000, $8,000, $5,000 [for the Arquevious Crane Assistance Fund] who said they wanted the money specifically used for Arquevious’ future medical needs. Not anything else. So I have to honor their desires. And he’s going to need resources 10 years down the road for medical expenses.
“Many donations, we don’t know who contributed or what they wanted it used for. But no one’s said to me, ‘Give this money to the family.’ ”
To help sort through the concerns, the Touchdown Club is working to secure a trust company that would manage the fund.
“It’s unfortunate, but I’m not worrying about it because I don’t want it to take away from what the community has done to help Arquevious,” Barbara Crane said.
Help started right away, right at the school — which has about 2,800 students — where Crane’s teammates and classmates stalked the halls with plastic buckets seeking donations. Many Gwinnett County schools — particularly Buford, the school South was playing when the injury occurred — and other schools across the state sent in donations or called with prayers and well-wishes.
The Falcons’ Warrick Dunn visited Crane in the hospital and gave him a signed jersey. So did the Georgia football team, which left a signed football. Florida’s team sent a signed ball. Zaxby’s restaurant on U.S. 78 raised money, so did Crane’s bus driver and the Snellville police.
And the giving doesn’t seem to have an end. Former Harlem Globetrotter Shorty Coleman is hosting a benefit for Crane at the South Gwinnett High gymnasium on Jan. 20.
“We’ve never had anything this tragic happen,” Doster said. “But I know how caring this community is, so I’m not surprised at how it has really stepped up and been there for this family.
“And I know we will always be there for them.”
By CURTIS BUNN
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution