MALVERN, Ark. — Centers for children and adults with developmental delays are the latest target for fuel and catalytic converter thieves. First Step Arkansas vans in Malvern and Fordyce were hit on back-to-back weekends.
Every day 150 kids and adults ride the vans at First Step Malvern for therapy, education, or work assistance, but this month, seven vans were chopped up for their catalytic converters.
First Step Arkansas CEO Brett Chancellor described, “They also either cut the fuel lines or punched holes in the tank and took the gas as well.”
Some vans are still waiting for parts a week after First Step Malvern noticed half their fleet was unusable. That day immediately put a strain on the bus drivers and families.
“When you have that many go down at once, we start having to double, triple routes, sometimes quadruple routes,” Chancellor said.
This made some parents and students wait hours longer for their days to begin and end.
“It made me angry. It made me upset. It made me hurt for the kids”, remarked Jennifer Coleman, a parent of a First Step student.
She knows how valuable the lost time is for her son.
“First Step has been amazing for my child. When he first started, he could barely speak two words. He had a lot of issues, and now he is almost on target,” Jennifer stated.
The repairs are expected to cost Malvern First Step about $10,000 when all the invoices come in. That doesn’t include the vans in Fordyce that went through the same thing last weekend.
“As with any nonprofit, we run on a pretty thin margin,” Chancellor admitted explaining any excess funds don’t go to shareholders instead it goes toward improving and maintaining what each student gets.
If you’d like to help the nonprofit that services 27 counties in south Arkansas, information on how to donate can be found here.
In the end, Chancellor said, “It did certainly deprive some of our children of much-needed service.”
“They’re taking from these babies that don’t deserve this because it’s more than just this business,” Jennifer added. “They’re taking from their education, their speech therapies. Everything these kids need to be able to grow.”
First Step Arkansas is offering a $2,000 award for any information leading to an arrest. You can contact them or the Malvern Police Department.