PORTAGE | Niko Melendez was all smiles when he entered the Portage High School Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps classroom.
He was, for a while, back home.
Melendez, a 2010 PHS grad and three-year member of the JROTC program came to the school to thank present program members for their *ongoing help in raising funds to purchase a lift for his van. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at age three, Melendez may have to use a wheelchair, but it hasn't stopped the 20-year-old man from working towards his future.
What has stopped him is transportation. A student at Ivy Tech Community College in Valparaiso, Melendez hopes to return to PHS some day as a guidance counselor. However, when the family's specially-equipped van broke down, Melendez hitched a ride to class from Opportunity Enterprises.
Because of his class schedule beginning in the fall, said his mother Cindy Lopez, Niko will need his own transportation to get to school.
That's where friends, family and the JROTC stepped in. They are helping to raise the estimated $24,000 needed to purchase the lift.
Community service isn't new to the JROTC or to Melendez. It was the primary reason Melendez joined the program his sophomore year.
"Physically, I knew I couldn't do the pushups or join the military," Melendez said. "It was the community service. I knew I could be the best at this."
The JROTC students will man a car wash this Saturday and are working to sell tickets to a May 18 dinner benefit.
"They are paying it forward for a guy like me, to help me. A lot of these kids don't know me," he said.
Melendez got involved in the program after instructor John Johnston stopped him in the school's hallway "for going 95 mph" in his wheelchair.
Melendez said he found his place in the program, which taught him the traits and qualities of being a leader.
"I am truly blessed, thankful and grateful for this program. This program made me a better person," Melendez said.
* Editor's note: This story has been changed from its original version.
PORTAGE | A story in Tuesday's edition about Niko Melendez should have said that efforts to raise $24,000 to purchase a lift for his disability van are ongoing. Family, friends and members of the Portage High School Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps are teaming together to help the family raise the needed $24,000 for the lift by sponsoring a car wash Saturday at Willowcreek Middle School and a benefit dinner on Saturday, May 18 at the Lake Station American Legion.