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JCISD employee helping make celebrations special for families during COVID-19 pandemic

June 17, 2020

Jackson, Mich. - You’ve likely seen one in your neighborhood, or maybe you’ve even been a part of one: drive-by parties for people who are celebrating something special during the COVID-19 quarantine. But what you may not know, is who's leading the effort that goes into pulling them off.

One of the people helping organize those celebrations is Jackson County Intermediate School District employee Chad Seekell. Chad grew up in Jackson and is dedicated to several causes around the community, including the Hot Rod Elves, a group created to help struggling families. The group is made up of dozens of classic and custom car owners who host car shows and toy drives to raise money and purchase toys, meals and clothing for families during the holidays, as well as families who are affected by tragedies like house fires and illnesses.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started and celebrations like birthdays, graduations, welcome home events, retirements - even funerals, were canceled or put on hold, Chad and the Hot Rod Elves knew they had to step in. It started with a request here and there from friends - and grew into a massive undertaking that has now brought joy to 50 families over the last several weeks.

“When a family contacts me, we set up an event page on Facebook so they can invite their friends and family,” says Chad Seekell. “Then I go out and drive the area to find a staging area near the house and we set up a meeting time with the group.” Chad enlists other businesses to help too, like Sign Creations in Michigan Center to make a big Happy Birthday banner and DBoz Photography to take pictures. “When everyone arrives at the meeting spot, we all sign the banner and strap it to one of the guys’ Bronco, while David Bostedor of DBoz Photography is already at the house ready to take photos of what’s about to happen,” says Chad.

The cars line up by the dozens and make their way to the house. Chad outfits his truck with PA speakers to play Happy Birthday and other songs. Each person hands off a card, money or a gift - in addition to the banner and any photos that were taken. Chad says he does it because he loves his Jackson community. “I’m just doing what we’re supposed to be doing for one another. It puts a smile on my face when I see how happy people are,” says Chad. “Even better is that the people we do these drive-bys for started out as strangers - and now they show up and join us on other drive-bys. A lot of friendships have been developed.”

David Bostedor of DBoz Photography has known Chad for years and says it was no-brainer when he was asked to be a part of these celebrations. “Chad and his group - they just floor me every time I see it, they’re all smiles - and some of them dig out of their own pocket to make each and every celebration a special one for the person being honored.”

David goes in under a ruse, letting the person think he’s just there for a family photo session since they couldn’t have a party. Instead, he’s really there to capture the moment of surprise. “It brings a smile to my face and makes me feel great to be a part of something during what’s been a sad and dark time for many,” says David. “It also keeps me on par with my photography since a lot of the events I take pictures at have been canceled.”

Another Jackson County ISD employee was witness to just how special these celebrations have been. Liz Schug, a special education teacher at the Torrant Center, planned a drive-by party for her fiance’s daughter Livia, who was turning 16. Liz said the drive-by was absolutely amazing, making Livia’s Sweet 16 so special. “It was such a heartwarming experience. We were all so humbled and amazed by the generosity of Chad, his buddies and our community. They even got donations from some auto places for items for her new car, which we surprised her with at the end of the parade. I was just so overwhelmed by the outpouring of love for a girl who most of these people didn’t even know! She said it was a birthday she will never forget.” 

Chad organized the last drive-by celebration last week, but says he will continue to do an occasional celebration here and there. He’s also teamed up with a local non-profit organization to perform these events at local assisted living centers in conjunction with the Walk To End Alzheimer's. Chad says he owes a huge thank you to everyone who participated in any way. “It’s been a fun way to support our community. It’s been amazing what we’ve all done to help make celebrations memorable for these families. I am humbled by all of you.”

Photos courtesy of DBoz Photography

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Kaci Babineau
Marketing & Special Projects