This story is redistributed in its entirety from Alamo Today and written by Jody Morgan. You can read the original article by clicking here.
Thanks to the inspiration of three local men collaborating with the creativity of area educators, 48,000 students in 53 schools are enjoying a fresh approach to Ability Awareness this academic year. Founders of Del Corazon (From-the-Heart), Don Routh, Josh Routh, and Bill Wheeler, support the curriculum with informative videos, personal presentations, and the loan for a week to each participating school of 10 wheelchairs. Children learn to appreciate their own abilities and embrace the challenge of enabling others to realize their full potential. Also known as the Wheelchair Foundation Schools Project, the initiative fosters respect for the strengths of peers coping with intellectual, developmental, and physical challenges, while raising funds to send wheelchair to hundres of individuals who would otherwise remain immobile.
The Wheelchair Foundation, established by Ken Behring in 2000, provides wheelchairs to people around the world who need but cannot afford a wheelchair. In many countries, a wheelchair costs a worker’s entire annual income. Todate, 955,000 wheelchairs have been delivered, bringing mobility, dignity, and hope to individuals aged two to over 102.
Since Bill Wheeler, founder of Blacktie Transportation, first invited Don and Josh to join him on a Wheelchair Foundation distribution trip, “the Three Amigos” have made 23 distribution trips to 14 Latin American countries, delivering 72,000 wheelchairs. Asked to identify his favorite trip, Josh insists: “All of them!” His father, Don, concurs. Each trip is different, every journey life changing.
Josh demonstrates to wheelchair recipients that their personal goals are achievable. Doctors predicted Josh, born with Cerebral Palsy, would be a quadriplegic incapable of speech. At 31, he spoke his first word: “Soup!” His indefatigable spirit continues to feed his father’s dedication. A graduate of San Ramon Valley High School, Josh relies on a wheelchair for mobility. Now 35, he lives independently, drives his own car to work, and has multiple sports accomplishments to his credit.
In Paraguay, From-the-Heart delivered a wheelchair to another Josh. Seeing his own son in the four-year old also coping with Cerebral Palsy, Don translated his parental experience into a message of hope for the mother. Recalling how grateful he would have been for the advice of a mentor, Don happily shares his experience, encouraging care givers to believe in the possibility that their charges will be, likeJosh, successful adults.
In spring 2012, Don Routh presented the concept of a schools program to Pleasanton Unified School District (PUSD) Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi. Ahmadi immediately recognized the value. “The potential of this endeavor as a true service learning project was incredible, and it was obvious that the impact to all involved would be profound,” she comments. “The project allows our students to learn and apply their knowledge while serving others globally. “Six PUSD elementary schools participated the following academic year. Six teachers joined a wheelchair distribution tour that summer and all came back as zealous advocates of the program.
The San Ramon Valley Unified School District (SRVUSD) recommended the project to all of its schools for 2013-2014, as did PUSD. Over the course of four months from late spring through summer, Don worked with Special Needs Parents and SRVUSD professionals to enhance the existing Ability Awareness curriculum to include lesson plans for all grades addressing physical, intellectual and developmental issues.
Terry Koehne, SRVUSD Communications Director, gladly accepted the task of promoting the program with district principals. “Don is amazing he provides every ounce of support a school needs, including background information, monthly newsletters, and updates, and makes himself available to do presentations for any group that needs it. “Support materials include a 17 page book list, movie suggestions featuring characters coping with disability, fun ways to try wheelchairs, and fundraising ideas. Proud that the fundraising aspect of the program will provide hundreds of wheelchairs to people who lack mobility, Koehne notes, “Providing students with real opportunities to experience the issue themselves gives more meaning to the fundraising component, and inspires them to get even more involved.”
Students and faculty members find Don Routh’s presentation riveting. He opens up by explaining “There are more than 100 million people with physical disabilities worldwide who are in need of a wheelchair. Thirty million of these are children and 90% of them do not to to school.” Lacking mobility, they have no access to education and often no social interaction with other children. Sometimes they have to crawl to reach basic items beyond their reach.
Montair Elementary School ran the project in October/November, embedding the program in all aspects of academics. Coin counting supported math, writing persuasive letters to the business community underscored language lessons, and walking into Danville to speak to local business leaders bolstered oral presentation skills. Dennis Simkin, Vice President, Manager recalls the day the students came to J.Rockcliff. “I was in awe of how professional and cute they were. “Simkin estimates that 30 or 40 people came out to hear their presentation.
Taking turns, students participated in a wheelchair basketball game. When one student finally managed to score, the crowd erupted in cheers. Elizabeth Campos spent part of a day teaching in a wheelchair and found maneuvering around her classroom a major challenge. Months later, in February, another school activity highlighted how much the project affected students. Campos wrote: “At Montair this week we are participating in a No-Name-Calling Week, and as Leadership was discussing ways to promote this, a few students brought up the fact that they actually think name-calling has decreased at school since Ability Awareness and the Wheelchair Foundation project because kids learned to accept others for who they are, no matter what they look like or their abilities.”
Gale Ranch Middle School ran the program in February. Counselor Lori Olson volunteered to coordinate. The opportunity for a field trip to the Blackhawk Automotive Museum was a huge incentive for students, and they returned from meeting Wheelchair Foundation President David Behring even morec ommitted to the cause. Blacktie provides field trip transportation and also stores and delivers the two sets of project wheelchairs.
Student reflections indicate how much Gale Ranch pupils learned spending time in a wheelchair. One student commented, “Before this I had never really thought about being in a wheelchair, not being able to do things normal people could, and feeling like you are separated from everyone.” Friends treated them differently. Another student said, “I now know that people in a wheelchair just wanted to be treated the same way as everyone else.”The value of mobility was clearly recognized. A third student said, “When the founder, Don, came to our school, he said not to feel sorry for the people who have wheelchairs but for the people who don’t have one.”
San Ramon Valley High Schoo land Monte Vista are holding Basketball Game Fundraisers showcasing their athletes competing against the nationally ranked BORP Warriors Wheelchair team. Local teams have volunteered to accept the challenge of playing in wheelchairs. CarlyLutz, SRVHS Leadership student reports that signupsfor “Ride-in-a-Wheelchair for a Day” are filling up quickly. Janet Willford, SRVHS Leadership teacher, describes planned lunchtime activities: “a wheelchair relay race, wheelchair bowling, and a pep rally.”
Costa Rica and Honduras (getting Foundation donations for the first time )are slated to each receive a container of 280 wheelchairs at a cost of $42,000 per container. As of April 17th, $61,258.05 has been collected, with many schools about to commence the project. Teachers, parents, and older students accompanied by an adult have been invited to come on this summer’s distributions trips. Ken Behring is awarding stipends of $2,000 toward travel costs to the elementary, middle, and high school achieving the highest per student donations.
Visit www.del-corazon.org for information or to donate.