This story was written by Josh Burroughs  Chair, Silicon Valley Chapter of the Wheelchair Foundation, Wheelchair Ambassador, Rotary Club of San Jose

Gandhi said it best: “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

I can’t think of a better way to describe the feelings felt on our immersive wheelchair distribution in Monterrey, Mexico, a joint venture between the Rotary District 5170 (Bay Area) and the Silicon Valley Chapter of the Wheelchair Foundation. 

Josh Burroughs Monterey Mexico

Josh and members of the Rotary Districts 5160, 5170, 7090 and 5730 in Monterey Mexico during the delivery of 560 wheelchairs.

I had the honor of serving on this mission trip delivering 560 wheelchairs and participating in hands on service projects with our local Rotarian partners.  This life changing experience (now my 8th wheelchair distribution to date) continues to affect me as a constant reminder of the many blessings we have here in the states, and our obligation to reach outside comfort zones to share our gifts of time, talent and treasure with others.

What was equally inspiring was the sheer generosity of our donors towards this project.  In less than 8 months, starting with a modest challenge grant from the Silicon Valley Chapter and Rotary 5170 District Governor Susan Valenta, the campaign caught on like wildfire throughout the Bay Area Rotary Clubs – a huge outpouring of support from individuals, businesses, and foundations.  The fundraising campaign culminated with a grand reception at the Blackhawk Museum in Danville, where individual donors had a chance to meet Wheelchair Foundation founder, Ken Behring, who gave an inspiring speech in thanks for the continued support of Rotary International over the past 15 years.

Wheelchair recipients in Monterey MexicoThis tangible gift of mobility and its life changing impacts were sourced locally, and distributed globally, but the effects on the lives of the recipients can only be briefly documented through my experience delivering the chairs.  The true impact will be lifelong, and one in which entire family units are transformed.

Led by Rotary International Director Brad Howard, Rotary District 5170 Governor Susan Valenta, and District 5170 Governor Elect Jeff Orth, our 20 person team landed in Monterrey in April, 2016.  Building on a decade long partnership with the Monterrey Rotarians, the team divided into groups to serve the local communities. 

I personally participated in the renovation of the children’s library in Garcia, Nuevo Leon; swinging sledge hammers, painting, landscaping – the kids helped us out too, but they got more paint on themselves that on the walls! 

The primarily industrial city (think packaging and manufacturing of Mary Kay products, Kia Motors, etc) has an ever-increasing influx of migrants looking for work.  Very poor areas dealing with issues surrounding homelessness and housing juxtaposes an increased amount of new commercial development & construction in the downtown core.

Amid this changing landscape are the diverse stories of the individuals receiving mobility.  From children to adults, from birth defects to car accidents, the stories highlight the need for us to continue on this mission, and this is only the beginning!

Wheelchairs lined up for deliveryCheck back soon for a follow-up article on our 2nd Mission trip to Panama in October 2016 where we will be delivering another 560 wheelchairs in this Central American outpost.

…and Thank You again for all your support!

-Josh Burroughs

Chair, Silicon Valley Chapter of the Wheelchair Foundation

Wheelchair Ambassador, Rotary Club of San Jose

This story is borrowed and republished in full courtesy of The Independent. The original article can be read by clicking here.

Nine members of the Rotary Club of Pleasanton embarked on a service trip to Tulancingo, Mexico (Pleasanton’s Sister City) on October 16th to distribute 280 wheelchairs to the elderly and disabled. The trip is the culmination of an annual effort by the club to find a partnering city in need, raise funds, purchase and deliver a container of wheelchairs, and participate in their distribution. This year the Club selected Tulancingo as the recipient city and partnered with a Rotary Club in that city and Mexico’s National System for Integral Family Development (DIF) to make the program happen.

54810d65107a8.imageThe distribution took place at the town square of Tulancingo. The recipients were preselected by DIF. The event was well attended by both local residents and local government officials. Nancy Pennell, chairperson of the Club’s Wheelchair Committee, has been on several distribution trips. “The recipients of these wheelchairs are so varied. Men, women and children of all ages are in need. On this distribution ages ranged from 4 years old to a woman who was 104. They both cried when they received their wheelchairs. We cried with them. Participating in these distributions is an experience no one will ever forget. It is humbling, rewarding and life changing. A wheelchair not only changes the life of the recipient, but of their entire family as well.”

The Rotary Club of Pleasanton started its Wheelchair Project in 2003 at the urging of member Bob Athenour, who is also the founder of the Pleasanton/Tulancingo Sister City partnership. Since 2003, the Club in conjunction with the Wheelchair Foundation of Blackhawk and the Rotary Clubs in the recipient cities have delivered and distributed 4275 wheelchairs on 18 different trips to Latin America. The Club raises funds for the project through its annual Father’s Day Spirit Run, an annual estate sale in February, and contributions from its members and private donors. It plans to deliver another 280 wheelchairs in 2015 to Panama.

A container of 280 wheelchairs costs $42,000 ($150.00 per chair). The club generally covers half of that; matching funds from the receiving country’s clubs and governmental agencies generally cover the remaining. All travel costs are paid separately by the Rotary Club’s members.

Pennell adds, “The Rotary Club of Pleasanton asks that you consider donating a wheelchair in memory of or in honor of someone near and dear to you. Give the gift of mobility this Holiday Season. Donations in any amount are appreciated.”

Contact the Rotary Club of Pleasanton for more information: Rotary Club of Pleasanton Wheelchair Project, c/o Dick Stafford, P.O. Box 352, Pleasanton, CA 94566; Email: grs414@hotmail.com; phone: 925-351-8860.

In late January Rotary District 5490 visited Hermosillo, Mexico and distributed 110 wheelchairs.   Rebecca Wilks, MD, a Past President of Peoria North Rotary Club, attended the distribution and wrote the below story.

“I have some history with the Wheelchair Foundation.  I’d read Ken Behring’s Book, Road to Purpose. Our club honors High School Students of the Month with wheelchairs donated in their names.  I’d even had (thwarted) plans to join another wheelchair distribution trip to Mexico several years ago.”

“There were 49 of us, Rotarians from Arizona and friends on a bus.  We were lavishly entertained in Hermosillo by our partners in this endeavor, the Hermosillo Pitic Rotary Club.  Like many International Rotary trips, it was as much a cultural exchange as a service trip.”

“Rotary District 5490 has been delivering Wheelchair Foundation chairs to various parts of Mexico for at least a decade.”

“There were 8 Rotarians and spouses from our club, Peoria North Rotary. We helped to deliver 110 wheelchairs that Saturday.  A dozen went to Guaymas to be used short-term on a rotating basis.  We were honored to hear some personal stories from the recipients and to see the power of connection of people across cultures.”

“I’ll let the images tell the stories.”

This article taken in it’s entirety and written by Jody Morgan appeared in both the Danville Today News as well as the Alamo Today. 

The Wheelchair Foundation has delivered nearly 920,000 wheelchairs in over 150 countries since its inception in 2000. As founder Kenneth Behring’s original goal of giving one million wheelchairs to disabled individuals around the world nears fulfillment, global need continues to grow. An estimated 100 million people unable to afford a wheelchair are waiting in hidden corners of the earth for the chance to experience the empowerment of mobility.

Josh Routh connects with a nonagenarian in Tlaquepaque, Mexico, one of many wheelchair recipients from 4-96 years of age hea has met in Latin America. Photo courtesy of Don Routh

Wheelchairs were not among the donation Behring was packing in his private plane in 1999 when LSD Charities (the humanitarian outreach branch of the Latter Day Saints) asked him to drop off their aid packages en route to his African destination  He readily agreed. Included in that cargo were six wheelchairs bound for a hospital in Romania. “Little did I know” he writes, “that those six wheelchairs would change the direction of my life.”

Behring, a successful Danville developer, defines the joy generated by setting a wheelchair recipient’s dreams in motion as the acheivement of purpose. In his 2004 autobiography Road to Purpose, he recount, “I lifted a small Vietnamese girl from the ground and placed her in a wheelchair. In that instant, she found hope…Her face opened into a smile, her eyes as bright as the noontime sky. And I knew for all she had changed in that moment, I had changed even more.”

Initially, Behring explored recycling used wheelchairs. The process proved the reverse of cost-effective. Packaging for shipment added to the expense of parts and labor for repairs. Then Behring asked manufacturers to design a durable wheelchair priced according to the high volume of orders he anticipated. One product seemed perfect, but it required two hours to piece together when uncrated. Today’s model comes in five sizes, ordered with regular or all-terrain tires, and can be assembled in 15 minutes. Averaging shipping costs to all destinations, the Foundation can deliver each wheelchair for just $150.  In Bolivia a comparable product costs $1,700.  In many countries, the price of a wheelchair exceeds an average laborer’s annual income.

The Wheelchair Foundation runs an administratively lean operation, funneling virtually every dollar into providing wheelchairs. Volunteers and service organizations across America do much of the fundraising. Unanimously declaring the positive return on their investment inestimable donors traveling on distribution trips pay their own expenses.  On the receiving end, similar groups arrange local logistics including identification of recipients and appropriate configuration of the wheelchairs they require. They also fund and coordinate transportation to remote locations where wheelchairs are most needed.  Rotary International, with clubs in over 200 countries, is frequently involved in all aspect of the process.

Since Bill Wheeler, founder of Blacktie Transportation, invited them on their first journey, Josh Routh and his father Don have made 20 distribution trips to 11 countries. In the remote town Juigalpa, Nicaragua, they met a 26 year-old woman who had been waiting eight years to acquire the wheelchair she needed to utilize the scholarship to Managua University she earned as a high school honors graduate.  Finally enabled to pursue her studies, she chose psychology so she could hep families coping with disabilities   In poorer places, when one family member is disabled, another often has to stay home from school or work to act as a caregiver.

Josh tears up as he describes a recipient brought to a wheelchair distribution in a wheelbarrow and another crawling through the dust to get there. Born with cerebral palsy, Josh has never walked.  Although doctors predicted he would remain a quadriplegic, never uttering an intelligible word, the 33-year old San Ramon resident drives his own car and lives independently. A cashier at Nob Hill, Josh dedicates much of his time to aiding others.

Hayward students connected with peers in El Salvador by sending wheelchairs and t-shirts.

“When you give someone the gift of mobility, you are giving them freedom and dignity…and when someone has freedom and dignity then they have hope for the future,” explains Don Routh.  Now retired, Don spreads awareness of the worldwide need for the means of mobility and the elation engendered by improving the life of each wheelchair recipient.  One of his initiatives at a Hayward elementary school gave low-income Latino students the opportunity to celebrate joy in their joint accomplishment: raising enough money to send six wheelchairs to less fortunate peers in El Salvador.

Don Routh plans to introduce the program the “Three Amigos” (Don, Josh and Bill) are currently piloting with the Pleasanton Unified School District to additional area school districts this spring. They provide live and video presentations, posters, collection containers, and fundraising ideas. Wheeler offers Blacktie’s community bus free for one field trip per school to either the Blackhawk Museum/Wheelchair Foundation exhibits or a wheelchair sport event.  Ten wheelchairs are available for schools to borrow in rotation for students to test drive or use in fundraising races or sport competitions. For information, email donrouth@comcast.net

Eva Carleton, Regional Director of Operations of Latin America and the Caribbean, travels on 3-4 distribution trips a year while coordinating the delivery of 40-50 projects. Every working day she helps provide someone with what sh considers a basic human right: a wheelchair.  “Without a wheelchair,” Carleton notes, “you have to ask for everything you need.”  Eva’s mother’s quality of life improved dramatically once she accepted how enabling the device could be. She no longer has to ring for a nurse every time she wants a simple object like a tissue.

In a Colombian community several hours from Bogota, Carleton met a woman who had been unable to work for five years due to a spinal injury.  Thanks to her Foundation wheelchair, she was back at her job.  Minutes later, Eva encountered another wheelchair recipient happily earning money keeping parked cars safe.

“It’s always a joy to give someone a wheelchair and it is an even greater joy to personally watch and hear how that wheelchair improved their life,” explains David Behring, President of the Wheelchair Foundation.  David met Tran Nghia in 2003.  Born with a neurological disorder, the Vietnamese high school student depended on family and friends to carry her everywhere.  She needed a wheelchair to attend university to study English and become a doctor.  The following year David visited her family and they kept in touch.  In November 2012 they met again in Hanoi.  “Nghia unfortunately could not become a doctor due to her disability but she did learn English and translates documents for a Vietnamese company.  … Her smile was as radiant as I remembered it back in 2003.”

A wheelchair recipient with Kenneth Behring (right). Photo courtesy of the Wheelchair Foundation

Kenneth Behring make a point of shaking the hand of every wheelchair recipient.  “All we ask in return is a smile.”  Partnering with non-governmental agencies permits the Wheelchair Foundation to give the gift of mobility with no strings attached.  Creating global friendship and promoting the joy of giving are additional aspects of this non-profit organization’s mission “to deliver a wheelchair to every child, teen, and adult in the world who needs one, but cannot afford one.”

The Wheelchair Foundation’s annual Charity Ball at the Blackhawk Museum February 23rd is open to the public as are all Foundation fundraisers.  Jeff Behring, Director of Special Benefits, offers a Wine for Wheels private party plan getting rave reviews nationwide as a means for finding personal purpose while sharing fun with friends.  To register for the Charity Ball, plan a Wine for Wheels event, learn more about Foundation activities or to make a donation, visit www.wheelchairfoundation.org. Road to Purpose is available at the Danville Library.

George Sumner

George Sumner signing art posters.

World-renowned artist George Sumner is an environmental impressionist painter known for his marine life art and avid support of ecological causes. His vivid works have found their way into the collections of Muhammad Ali, Ted Turner and Mikhail Gorbachev.

George and his wife/manager, Donnalei, have raised tens of thousands of dollars for the Wheelchair Foundation through the sale of their art. A simple belief that the Sumners share is you can always make a difference; this has been the fuel in their work, life and love together.

It is also the philosophy that recently brought them to Cabo San Lucas – but not for vacation. The couple came to help the Wheelchair Foundation distribute wheelchairs in the poverty-stricken neighborhoods of Mexico that surround the tourist destination.

Several years ago, Cabo experienced a boom in development. Jobs in construction and service work became available to accommodate the rapid growth of large homes and resorts. Hundreds of families moved to the outskirts of town, seeking such opportunities. Economic and environmental factors, however, affected new development and as projects slowed or ceased, the labor needs declined, leaving thousands of people unemployed and unable to earn a living, let alone afford a wheelchair.

George Sumner

Donnalei Sumner (center) and family join the team.

Once outside the tourists areas of Cabo, the poverty is evident. The Sumners joined the wheelchair distribution team as they headed to the barrios where the disabled live in desperately poor conditions without any means of transportation. Here, a wheelchair is an unthought-of luxury.

An elderly woman and her family greeted them at their first stop and welcomed the group into their tiny, well-kept home. The significance of this moment was apparent to everyone. No longer isolated, a grandmother could finally watch her grandchildren play outside; at last, this woman could enjoy a social life that, despite her lack of worldly possessions, would bring a wealth of happiness for years to come.

The Sumners then had an idea to make the occasion even more special. Donnalei handed her husband a set of permanent artist pens with which he painted a beautiful marinescape on the side of the wheelchair.

Blue and green hues stood out vibrantly against the brilliant red, shining wheelchair. When George Sumner had completed his piece, the elderly woman’s face flooded with tears of joy so contagious, no one was immune. More tears were shed as the team said goodbye and set out for the next delivery.

A young girl and her social worker were eagerly awaiting their arrival at their second stop. The girl, now in her late teens, had been born with deformities affecting both of her legs and dreamt of having independence her entire life. The girl’s hair had been styled and her fingernails delicately painted in preparation for today.

“They received a wheelchair, but George and I were the ones who truly got the gift.”

-Donnalei Sumner
on the reward of giving

The incredible significance of this event, like the one before it, was felt by all who were there. After a seemingly endless round of hugs and laughter, the Sumners surprised the already-tearful recipient with a special contribution as George painted another magnificent ocean scene on part of the glistening new wheelchair in which the girl sat, smiling in the sun.

This trip was a life-changing experience, not only for the recipients and their families, but also for the Sumners, who will never forget the overwhelming love shared by so many people. The Wheelchair Foundation was thankful to have the Sumners’ incredible assistance on this distribution and we’re always thankful for the support we get from our donors. George Sumner’s online gallery can be found at www.Sumner-Studios.com.

Mobility is a fundamental human necessity, not a luxury. A wheelchair allows those with disabilities to become a part of society and opens up a world where education, employment, and a better quality of life are possible. Donate today and help the Wheelchair Foundation deliver Hope, Mobility and Independence to the thousands of men, women, and children who still desperately need it.