Newfields rallies around longtime community activist
NEWFIELDS — Steve Shope spent more than 15 years giving back to his community of about 1,500 residents without much thought.
He serves as a volunteer firefighter, sits on the town's conservation commission and often attended school functions with his two children as they were growing up.
He never imagined one day he would be on the receiving end of his town's kindness and support, and some days it is not easy to accept.
But in April, a freak bicycling accident changed his life forever. On a trail in Exeter he had ridden many times before, a series of unfortunate events sent him over his handlebars and onto his head.
He said he knew instantly that he was paralyzed from the chest down.
It has only been six months since the accident, and it is still difficult to talk about as Shope adjusts to days full of physical and occupational therapy. He's unable to do most things by himself.
But the community of friends, family and neighbors Shope spent a lifetime building is helping him get through, in more ways than one.
Trail to Recovery Fund
Almost immediately after Shope was injured, friends in the cycling community created the Trail to Recovery Fund to help Shope and his family deal with the astronomical expenses associated with a spinal injury.
According to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, the first year of medical expenses associated with a spinal injury can approach $750,000 and more than $50,000 each year after that.
Shope runs a small business, Exeter Environmental, with his wife, Julie, and is self-insured. He said his insurance has been great, but there are things it will not pay for, including continuing physical therapies and some types of equipment that are crucial to his recovery.Newfields resident Kelly McGowan said members of the community rallied before Shope even came home, renovating his home to make it more accessible, mowing the lawn and bringing meals for the family.
Friend and Trail to Recovery Fund board member Brian McElwee said the community effort illustrates two things.
"Steve has touched a lot of people … but it also speaks to the community of people responding with their time and effort and donations," McElwee said.
An independent man
Shope said at first it was not easy to accept help of any kind.
"At first I had trouble with it. I like to do things myself and be independent. It was difficult for me," Shope said. "Obviously I've changed my position on that because I can't do anything on my own, so I have learned to accept help, and having all my friends around is really what gets me through the day."
Shope said he did not realize at first how many people were rooting for him and has been doing what he can to show his gratitude. Newmarket High School student Anye George has volunteered her time to help Shope with various things, including writing many thank-you notes.
On Friday, Shope donated an American flag flown over the U.S. Capitol in his honor to the Newfields Elementary School in recognition and appreciation of the support the students have shown to Shope and the Trail to Recovery Fund.
Students at the school raised $2,000 through a penny drive in the spring. The original fundraising goal was $300.
Recovery gala Nov. 8
Shope will have a chance to personally thank a broader group of supporters during the Steve Shope Trail to Recovery Fund Gala & Live Auction event being held Nov. 8 at the Sheraton Harborside Hotel in Portsmouth.
One of the most interesting auction items is a two-year lease on a Mini Cooper. Only 300 tickets are being sold at $125 a piece. The winning ticket will be drawn during the event.
McGowan said everyone can take something away from the Trail to Recovery Fund effort and Shope's story.
"I would hope it gives everybody the opportunity to see how much good you can do to really change someone's life," she said.
For more information about Shope and the Trail to Recovery Fund, go to trailtorecovery.com.