Tagen Marshall of Parksville is looking to raise funds for a new specialized van. (Submitted photo)

Tagen Marshall of Parksville is looking to raise funds for a new specialized van. (Submitted photo)

Wolf: Parksville’s Tagen Marshall inspires others, aims to invest in himself

VIU honour student with spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy seeks help achieving big dreams

Tagen Marshall is a remarkable young man.

This should hardly come as a revelation to anyone who knows him. It took all of about 30 seconds into a recent 45-minute conversation for me to check the ‘wow, definitely inspirational’ box on my scorecard.

Marshall’s zest for life is infectious, his intellect revelatory and his potential boundless. His positivity in the face of adversity should be a lesson to us all. And now, he could use a little help achieving his dreams.

First, a little background.

Marshall, a Parksville resident, is a student at VIU, studying philosophy with a goal of completing a doctorate and becoming a teacher. He also has spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy, which requires 24/7 care.

“I want to be as independent as I can and to support myself as much as I’m able,” he said.

He was born at 26 weeks, weighing just more than two pounds. He didn’t leave the hospital until he was 2 ½ months old.

The cerebral palsy means his muscles will continue to tighten and contract his entire life, leaving him in constant pain.

Marshall noted while his parents did the best they could under the circumstances, he still required foster care.

When his foster mother remarried and moved to Alberta, he moved in full-time with the Berg family, who had been providing respite care.

“Last year after turning 19 and aging out of the foster care system, we did the paperwork so I could still live with them,” Marshall explained. “I’m in a wheelchair full-time, but it’s not just my legs that don’t work. My right hand doesn’t work at all, and I only have a little bit of use in my left hand. They lift me out of bed every morning, bathe me, dress me, comb my hair and do physio with me so I’m not in as much pain. If I need a drink of water or a door opened, my caregivers do it for me. They make all my food, do my laundry, they drive me everywhere, and they listen when I need to talk.

“One of the best parts is that they have four biological children, I am right in the middle age-wise, and we all get along really well. I feel like I have found a place that I can be forever if I like, though I struggle with the fear that it’s too good to last. It’s getting easier not to be afraid, but I know this is something I will probably work on for the rest of my life.”

Aging out of the childcare system means some government funding is not available, leaving Marshall and the Bergs in a bit of a bind.

A specialized van, retrofitted specifically for him, is “on its last legs.” At a cost of approximately $75,000, a new van is the key to his independence. So he and the Bergs have set out to find a way to obtain one.

“I’ve been involved in his life for seven or eight years now,” said Lauren Berg. “He’s a young man that has tremendous potential and needs right resources to help him, so we’re investigating what’s the best way to go forward.”

Last weekend, they met with a powerful ally – Rick Hansen, known as the ‘Man In Motion’ for his epic 26-month, 34 country, 40,000-kilometre wheelchair trip around the world to make the world inclusive for people with disabilities and to find a cure for paralysis.

Berg said Hansen is “putting his support behind Tagen” in terms of wanting to help fundraise.

“One of things he said was make sure all of the details are in place,” said Berg. “Supports, ability to respond to people, etc. We’re not there yet but we’re working on it.”

Marshall said meeting Hansen (virtually in COVID times) was a “pretty surreal experience.”

“I was trying not to fangirl you know,” he said with a chuckle. ” I’ve known about Rick for a long time, so it was fun to meet him virtually in the flesh, get some really great ideas and his support in this endeavour.”

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Berg is clearly one of Marshall’s biggest boosters.

“Tagen is a charismatic, outgoing young man,” he said. “Everybody he connects with just kind of falls in love with him. He has such positive attitude and an infectious outlook on life. He has so much potential. He has a really bright mind, which has led him into places that most able-bodied young people don’t go. If he’s got the right resources and supports, there is no telling what he can do.”

Berg said Marshall “has become very much part of this family.”

“It’s the same feeling as any one of our four kids,” he said. “We’re in this for the long haul.”

An emotional Marshall concurred.

“Same,” he said, his voice catching. “They were there through some of the most difficult moments. When you go through the transition process to get all funding sorted, helping you navigate the journey from adolescence to adulthood, they do become your family. It’s hard to put into words.”

Both Marshall and Berg noted the vast difference in terms of support for children in care as opposed to adults.

“When you’re under ministry care, they invest all they can to help,” said Marshall. “It’s a large investment. You go from that to nothing.”

“As an adult, he needs to build a team of advocates around him,” said Berg. “We’ve gone through the tremendous challenge of trying to figure what is available to him and to advocate on his behalf. The usual path is going into a care home. We just couldn’t bear to see that happen. He wouldn’t have the ability to reach his potential.”

With the use of adaptive technology, Marshall attends university.

“Because I was in foster care for so long, the government pays for my education,” he said. “I couldn’t do it otherwise. The muscles in my eyes are tightening, which makes reading really hard, so my text books are translated from print to voice. I use speech recognition software to write my papers and exams, and I have a scribe and care aide who attend university with me. In spite of my challenges, I have made the honour roll.”

He said public speaking and connecting with people are some of his favourite things. He has become passionate about fighting human trafficking and has been interviewed on TV, radio and spoken to city councils about the issue. He is a co-host for ‘The Canadian Philosophy Show’ that airs on CHLY radio, volunteers with the Federation of BC Youth in Care Network, which helps foster community for youth who are, or have been, in care. He is also the spiritual life co-ordinator for the men’s group at his church. He credits his faith for helping him through his “darkest moments.”

“I know if I have the right tools and help, I can achieve a lot,” he said.

A new van is paramount. Public transportation is not an option in Marshall’s case, so he is fully reliant on the personal one-to-one transportation.

“No matter how hard I work, or how big my dreams are, I can’t succeed without a van,” he said. “It’s literally the only way I can leave home, unless I’m physically carried. I live on a small disability income and there is no way for me to purchase a new van myself. I want to be a productive, positive member of society. I want to be a giver and not a taker. I don’t like asking for help and I feel really badly asking. But I really do need help. With a van that gets me to the places I need to go, I know I can achieve my dreams and I know I will make a difference in the world.”

As a “very social guy” he explained most of his goals involve building relationships, so he needs to be “out in the world.”

“I want to invest in myself and my goals… working with community, kids in care, (battling) human trafficking. Anyone who knows me knows one of my biggest goals would be to have a family one day. Dating requires you to go places.”

While admitting he has some days that are worse than others, Marshall refuses to do anything but look ahead and he offered advice for anyone else having their own struggles.

“Don’t give up hope,” he said. “Lean into your support network, those people you have around who that can help navigate the logistics of finding support you need and also be a sounding board for whatever emotions you have. You’re not alone. You are valuable. You have an impact on people. That’s powerful.”

It certainly is.

Anyone wishing to assist in fundraising can email tufsheadquarters@gmail.com.

The ‘tufs’ stands for ‘The Universal Friend Society’.

“I want to be everyone’s friend,” said Marshall with a chuckle.

I get the feeling he’s going to quickly add a lot more to his network.

PQB News/VI Free Daily editor Philip Wolf can be reached at philip.wolf@blackpress.ca, 250-905-0019 or on Twitter @philipwolf13. For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

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