“I want to go to a real academy,” begged Abby Pontius from a spot near her mother‘s desk in the family’s furniture store. She had been taking online classes through a co-op for years and as she grew older, the experience of only meeting with teachers once or twice a week became increasingly isolating. Add the chaos of doing homework in the middle of a busy store during the day, and the stress was becoming intense.
Pontius has cerebral palsy due to a head injury at birth, which left her with extra challenges. “I know that I’m different,” she says, “but I want to be able to participate.”
All of her siblings attended Adventist academies, and she wanted to follow suit. “ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] accessibility is a real issue,” says her mother, Robin Pontius. “I kept reminding her it was just a dream.”
But Abby Pontius wouldn’t give up. One day she insisted that they try again. “Mom, maybe something’s changed," she said.
Frustrated, Robin picked up the phone and started calling. “I was so surprised when I heard ‘you’re not going to believe this’ from the Walla Walla Valley Academy staff,” she says.
That spring WWVA donors had provided funds to bring the auditorium restrooms up to current ADA code. The work was scheduled to be completed before the following school year. “When my mom told me I might be able to go, I could not believe it," Abby says, flashing her signature grin. “God, You heard me!”
Robin visited the school. She found that not only were the auditorium restrooms ADA accessible, the wide hallways were updated with hard surfaces, making traveling from class to class much easier for wheelchairs. “We wished she didn’t have to travel so far to use the auditorium restroom,” says Brian Harris, principal, “but it was progress.”
Abby applied and was accepted. Stephanie Anderson, special education director, set up Abby's schedule and accommodations. “It was immediately clear that Abby would be a huge asset,” Anderson says. “She is joyful, loves to interact and makes us laugh. She’s a regular kid. We all come in different shapes, sizes and packages. She reminds us to be compassionate and accepting of others for what we can see and for what we can’t see.”
But then, disaster struck. In early June, 385 structures in their California community burned. The Pontius family decided to stay to help rebuild. “I was angry,” says Abby. “If I could only go as a senior — what’s the point?" She started praying they could make the move to College Place before second semester.
School opened with the new auditorium restrooms ready for students, but without Abby. Then miraculously, the WWVA received a second generous donation to continue the project on the main facility and work began on those restrooms. The very day Abby arrived at WWVA for second semester, they reopened to the students. In addition, the school began updating its locks and doorknobs, making doors easier to navigate. There is no question God prepared a way for Abby.
“We cannot quite believe the miracles that brought us here,” Robin says. "But what amazes us the most is that Abby always believed it could happen, even when no on else did."