COGAN STATION - Carlee Weber already had contributed her allowance for a project at her church to help raised money for a family in need as the new year approached.
But what the 10-year-old Old Lycoming Township girl, who has a form of muscular dystrophy and is confined to a wheelchair, didn't realize is that some of her allowance would be put into a pot and used on her behalf. It was a secret the congregation of 200 or more people at the church and this community north of the city kept from her.
On Sunday morning, as Weber left Fairlawn Community Church, 353 Pleasant Hill Road, her eyes lit up when she looked ahead and saw a customized van parked outside with her signature on the side and flowers attached.
Carlee Weber, 10, in wheelchair, who has a form of muscular dystrophy, gets a first look at a customized van with her name on it Sunday. To the left of Carlee are her mother, Nicole Lucas, and her stepfather, Keith Lucas.
"Carlee's Van" is printed on the new vehicle. Weber entered it via the handicapped accessible lift and sat in the middle seat area as the congregation cheered.
"What an awesome church," said Weber's mother, Nicole Lucas, wiping away tears from her eyes.
Lucas' husband, Keith, Weber's stepfather, a city firefighter, was among the many emergency services personnel honored just minutes before as heroes. He also teared up.
Weber's arms wrapped around all of those who walked up the ramp and into the van to give her a hug.
"It's a huge sacrifice," Nicole Lucas said, describing how much the church gave and how much they must have realized that her daughter who has had spinal muscular atrophy since birth needed the lift-equipped van.
The hundreds of attendees in the community never shared emails or let the secret slip.
In fact, all the way to the grand reveal, a fire department positioned a fire engine in front of the van so that Weber couldn't see it as she when she went to the service.
For her part, Weber, seemed to be a little more perceptive than the church community might have thought.
She acknowledged that she knew something was amiss in the weeks leading up to the holidays, but couldn't put a finger on it.
"When I started the blessings project at the church I raised $12 of my allowance, saving it for the donation to give someone in the community," she said. "I thought it would be wonderful if we could help them out."
When the church held a banquet to raise additional funds, Weber said she was told she couldn't go, and she admitted she became upset. "I got mad," she said.
All of those emotions disappeared as Weber replaced them with her reaction, and a big smile.
"This is a story of love, kindness and guidance from the Lord to help one family," said Samia Salama, a member of the church who described how it was organized by the Rev. Steve Cutter and the rest of the congregation.
Once the community was able to raise the funds, church leaders bought the vehicle and had it waiting after the service to honor local firefighters, police and paramedics.
The emergency personnel were given gift baskets and wore their uniforms.
Todd Heckman, assistant city fire chief, attended the service and couldn't have been happier for his colleague, engineer Lucas.
"What an awesome church," Weber's mother said, joining the line of people hugging and congratulating the family. "What a terrific community."