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Fulfilling dreams of less-fortunate cruisers

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

The Woodward Dream Cruise may be the most populist major car show in America. Everyone is welcome – from One Percenters in supercars to Joe Lunchbucket in his antique carbureted geezer.

So when D-MAN Foundation – which supports kids and adults with significant disabilities – was looking for an event where its clients could share the joys of motoring, it found a welcoming home at the Cruise.

For the fifth year, D-MAN’s “Dreams Come True on Woodward” brought dozens of its clients to the Kingsley Inn in Bloomfield Hills where they were treated to games, music – and most significantly, open-air rides in some of Motor City’s favorite convertibles.

D-MAN is the brainchild of Ziad Kassab, 32, whose younger brother, Danny, was tragically paralyzed from the neck down at the age of 5. When his brother succumbed to his disability at 23, Kassab dedicated his life to helping similarly disable individuals enjoy a fuller life through music and social events. Thus his organization’s name: Danny’s Miracle Angels Network (D-MAN).

“Dreams Come True” depends on volunteers – like your Fiat 124 Spider-driving scribe – to give rides to their clients. My passenger was Randy Newton, 31, a cerebral palsy victim from Mt. Morris. Randy cannot speak and has only limited mobility, but his dedicated, loving parents - Mary and Ralph – helped him into the Fiat’s passenger seat from his wheel chair.

We took a quick spin up Woodward – the topless 124 Spider surrounded by loud V-8s, gorgeous sports cars, and the odd ice cream truck. Randy took it all in, particularly thrilled by the roars from the big block engines. His parents told me he is a huge Kid Rock fan – and judging by the ear-to-ear grin on his face when we got back to the Kingsley, he’s now a Fiat fanatic as well.

Other D-MAN participants could not ride along in my two-seater convertible. Charlie Starlight, for example. A 29-year old quadriplegic, Charlie took a ride in a Camaro convertible after being lowered into the front seat from his wheel chair with a harness that D-MAN brought for the occasion. Then a family member rode in the Chevy’s rear seat in order to monitor his ventilator.

“I like the noise the Camaro makes,” said Charlie when asked the best part of GM’s iconic pony car - which is celebrating its 50th anniversary at this year’s Cruise.

Starlight makes some beautiful music of his won, having just cut his first album, “The Beginning of Charlie Starlight” with D-MAN’s Music Therapy Productions. D-MAN uses music as therapy for its patients – including developing software that compliments their musical abilities.

“It’s vocational therapy. It’s breathing therapy. It makes me use my musical skills to their full ability,” says quadriplegic Al Floyd, 46, who can activate virtual keyboards and percussion with head and eye movements in order to create accompaniment with his vocals. He recently recorded a single, “My Home Detroit.”

With more than articipants, D-MAN Foundation enjoyed another successful Dream Cruise this year. For more information, go to www.mydman.org on the web or look for #BeTheMiracle on Twitter.

And bring a convertible cruiser to the Kingsley Inn in August, 2017.

Henry Payne is the auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com