C.B. teen living with autism receives special gift
Published Friday, February 12, 2016 6:32PM AST
Last Updated Friday, February 12, 2016 6:35PM AST
A Cape Breton teen living with autism loves spending his summers helping the animals at Two Rivers Wildlife Park in Marion Bridge. Now, a local RV company has just made it easier for the 19-year-old to continue doing the work he loves.
Matthew Hilliard says he has always felt most at home while volunteering at the local wildlife park. He loves to spend his time caring for the animals and when he saw another staff member move into an old building on site, Hilliard thought he would like to do the same.
Last September, recreational vehicle company Stone's RV donated a trailer and helped make electrical repairs so Matthew would have power. When Matthew showed up for work, staff surprised him with the trailer.
“It hit me that this was mine for the summer. I felt basically like king of the world,” Matthew said at the time.
Living at the park means Matthew can tend to the animals anytime it's needed, without making an hour's round trip from his parents' home. Now the trailer is his, permanently.
When he realized how much his son enjoyed his time in the trailer, Matthew’s father Michael Hilliard asked the company that donated it for a brief extension.
“I had called Tom to see about keeping it till the end of October for Fright Night and he said, 'I think we're gonna have to talk about that, because our plan is for him to keep it permanently,’” says Michael. “Keeping it a secret was hard. We've known about it since early October.”
It took a few months to get the paperwork straightened away and Tom Buffett, the owner of Stone's RV, says he couldn't wait to share the good news with a young man he calls an inspiration.
“It was a no-brainer. For us, it was easy. For all he's done with the Two Rivers Park and for what he's dealing with on a daily basis,” says Tom. “It makes me smile to see him smile and know that we did this for him.”
Matthew says he is ecstatic to be able to live in his beloved “Matt Cave” for the long haul.
“I'm extremely excited about it. To be able to come out and walk around the park again at night, make sure everything's OK and be closer to work,” says Matthew.
Hilliard's trailer is currently in winter hibernation at the RV lot, but will be ready to go in May, when the warmer weather returns.
“It's overwhelming how generous they were to just give me a trailer, to a kid they didn't even know. It's actually a blessing, really,” says Matthew.
Living away from home has allowed Matthew to develop life skills, like keeping his trailer clean and preparing his own meals.
“It's a phenomenal gesture and the level of independence it gives Matthew after last summer was great,” says Michael.
Matthew says he’s not just looking ahead to the summer, he has big plans for the future.
“My long-term plan is to eventually buy a piece of land for it, out here in Grand Mira and then build my dream property up from that,” says Matthew.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Ryan MacDonald