COMMUNITY GEMS: Founder of JoyRide helps area children find joy

Blair and Carter Cornell enjoy time together at a JoyRide event.

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Blair and Carter Cornell enjoy time together at a JoyRide event.

When Blair Cornell came home from work one night in 2016, he found that his young son, Carter, had had a rough day and his wife was having trouble calming him.

Cornell leaned over and asked Carter if he’d like a ride in his convertible.

“He looked up at me like a light switch was flipped,” he said.

The ride helped him get back on track, and Cornell realized that a car club especially for kids with special needs could help other children, too. JoyRide was born.

Carter, now 11, was born with Dandy-Walker Syndrome, a brain malformation that results in physical and mental delays. Cornell said that doctors had told them that he might not survive, but today he is walking, talking and sharing his dad’s love of cars.

“It’s definitely a connection for the two of us,” he said.

With JoyRide, launched in 2016 by Cornell and his wife, Kat, the kids themselves are the members of the car club, he said, and about twice each year are invited to events to ride in high-end cars, like Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Bentleys.

The nonprofit club is free and open to ages 3 to 22. Events held in Dayton and Cincinnati have attracted about 150 kids and 30 cars, and a couple hundred volunteers have helped them run smoothly. Kids, drivers and volunteers can register at https://joyridecars.org.

“Ever since I’ve been a kid, I’ve enjoyed cars,” said Cornell, 41, a private wealth adviser with UBS Financial Services.

He likens the designs of some cars to art, and he said that looking at them can sometimes be as fun as driving or riding in them. But the cars at JoyRide are to touch and to ride.

One of Cornell’s favorite memories is watching one child tell a driver about some tough upcoming medical appointments and surgeries. The driver then shared his own medical challenges.

“It was just a moving experience to see a driver really relate to one of the kids and take the kid seriously,” he said.

Mary Ann McCaskey began as a client of Cornell’s, but she now considers him a friend. He is honest, straightforward and genuine, said the Beavercreek woman, who nominated Cornell as a Dayton Daily News Community Gem and has volunteered at most JoyRide events.

“It’s not just for his kid, it’s for all the other kids,” McCaskey said. The events give both children and their families the opportunity to make memories.

The Cornells live in Centerville and have three kids in addition to Carter: Caitlin, 13, and 7-year-old twins Brady and Davis. They, too, are involved in the organization and see firsthand how the family can use its own resources to benefit others, Cornell said.

Cornell would love to see JoyRide expand into a regional or, eventually, a national organization. He initially wasn’t sure how the kids would react at the events, but it is often emotional for both them and their parents.

“They’re really the VIP, and they get to be the star of the show,” Cornell said.

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