Article By Jody Morgan of the Alamo Today & Danville Today News

The Wheelchair Foundation, officially established by Ken Behring on June 13, 2000 (his 72nd birthday), has delivered 1,107,349 wheelchairs free of charge to individuals worldwide in over 155 countries who have no means of affording the wheelchair they need. In developing countries, an estimated 90% of children, teens, and adults who require a wheelchair are unable to acquire one. From the Heart, the Wheelchair Foundation’s schools program launched in 2012 by Don Routh, Josh Routh, and Bill Wheeler, introduces students in Tri-Valley schools firsthand to the enabling power of a wheelchair and connects them personally through letters and photographs to wheelchair recipients in Latin America whose lives have been positively impacted by their fundraising efforts. The gift of mobility spreads life-liberating benefits like ripples in a pond to family, friends, and caregivers multiplying the effect of each one delivered tenfold.


Wheelchair Foundation From the Heart students are all smiles in Danville’s 4th of July parade. Photo courtesy of Wheelchair Foundation.

Raised during the Depression in a home with no hot water or central heat, Behring thought he knew what poverty was like until he began traveling to Africa in the 1990s. Taken to hospitals with inadequate medical supplies sometimes so overcrowded patients had to lie on the floor and schools that had no books and barely provided shelter, Behring responded by stocking his plane with human-itarian supplies each time he returned. In 1999, six wheelchairs destined for a hospital in Romania filled out the cargo of 15 tons of canned meat gathered by LDS Charities for delivery to refugees.

In Road to Purpose, Behring writes: “Little did I know that these six wheelchairs would alter the direction of my life.” One elderly stroke victim exclaimed after Ken helped settle him in his new wheelchair, “Now I can go outside in my yard and smoke with my neighbors.” Ken took to heart the lesson he learned that day. “I had previously seen wheelchairs as a form of confinement. I didn’t comprehend the liberation that one could bring to those who are unable to afford them.” Trips to Vietnam and Guatemala in early 2000 confirmed the enormous need and inspired Behring to address it. One Guatemalan girl only six or seven years old spent her days sitting in a box while her parents worked. Behring writes: “When we gave her a wheelchair, the mother was incredibly grateful. She told us that for the first time, her child would be able to move around the house. It would allow her to go to school and receive an education. No longer would she be confined to a box. She would have a future.”

Don Routh (L) and Josh Routh (R) with wheelchair recipient in Columbia paralyzed in a mining accident. Photo courtesy of Wheelchair Foundation.

An essential part of the message From the Heart brings to local schools is that wheel-chairs are a source of opportunity rather than limitation and that wheelchair users are enabled rather than disabled by their means of achieving mobility. Josh Routh takes the lead in demonstrating the point. Born with Cerebral Palsy, Josh is skilled at propelling his wheelchair in basketball competitions, to work, as a volunteer at School of the Imagination in Dublin, and throughout Latin America on Wheelchair Foundation distribution trips to remote villages with dad Don and amigo Bill.

Barbara Bosse gets a hug from wheelchair recipient in Columbia. Photo courtesy of Wheelchair Foundation.

Wheelchair Foundation Community Outreach Director Barbara Bosse partners with Josh at school assemblies.“I like to refer to Josh as my secret weapon,” she says. “He has a unique way of connecting with students and teachers alike. He demonstrates to students how he gets in and out of his wheelchair, how he can shoot hoops, and how he is also very comfortable answering all of their questions no matter how awkward they may seem. On one occasion, a little girl said, ‘I feel sorry for you.’ Josh replied, ‘Don’t feel sorry for me. I can do amazing things because I have this wheelchair.’” Schools interested in taking advantage of the program are encouraged to tailor it to their needs. Bosse explains, “As a teacher myself, I understand how difficult it is to ask teachers to add one more thing to their already full calendars. I like to impress upon prospective schools, ‘How can we make the program work for you?’ I emphasize the flexibility of our program and the many ways it can be tailored to fit each school’s needs.”

Black Tie Transportation founder Bill Wheeler donates delivery of wheelchairs to schools for students to experience what an hour or a day in a wheelchair is like. One middle school student wrote: “From this experience I learned that people treat you a whole lot different when you’re in a wheelchair. People treated me at two extremes. They either cared for me and did everything they absolutely could or they took advantage of me, used me as a racecar, or pushed me as fast as they could, even as I yelled for them to stop.”

Fundraising for wheelchair deliveries is included as an aspect of the program. Some teachers use the project to emphasize math. Others ask students to write to community organizations or visit them in person to hone their communication skills. The top fundraiser is Lydikesen School in Pleasanton. Strong supporters in SRVUSD include Tassajara Hills, Montair, Hidden Hills, Diablo Vista, Windermere Ranch, Pine Valley, Dougherty Valley High, Monte Vista and San Ramon Valley High. Some teachers and students join the summer wheelchair delivery teams to Latin America. This July’s Columbia journey accomplished seven distributions in five days, including one home visit. Personal connections underscore their achievement for every educator and student involved in From the Heart. Bosse notes: “Students are asked to write letters in Spanish that are then given to each wheelchair recipient on a distribution trip. In return, the student receives a reply in the form of a handwritten letter from the person and/or the family receiving the gift of a wheelchair. The personal connec-tion between our students participating in letter writing and the recipients of the wheelchair helps demonstrate that a little effort on the student’s part makes a huge difference in the lives of others.”

Join Wheelchair Foundation this Sunday, July 30th at

Stella’s Ristorante located at 3451 Blackhawk Plaza Rd. in Danville, California for

“Wheelchairs For Jalisco Dinner”

Call (925) 263 – 2112 for details and reservations

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 article is redistributed in full and was originally written by Jan Zitek of the Madera Sunrise Rotary Club in Madera, CA.

Gingoog Rotarians with welcome banner.

Gingoog Rotarians with welcome banner.

Our Wheelchair Distribution by Rotary District 5220 began on March 7, 2016 from San Francisco with representatives from the Rotary Clubs of Escalon Sunrise, Madera Sunrise, Manteca, Sonora Sunrise, and Tracy Sunrise plus guests from Indiana, New York, Rotary spouses, and Friends of Rotary. We were joined by our District Governor Ellen Hancock. This is the culmination of much planning and fund raising spearheaded by Bob Bitter and Phil Benner. The wheelchair chairs are provided by The Wheelchair Foundation and a donation of $42,000 by the sponsoring group provides 260 wheelchairs and the shipment to the receiving country. All participants in the distribution team have provided the funds for at least one chair and the remaining funds are provided by other clubs in the district and miscellaneous contributions.

This is our first trip to the Philippines.  We have accompanied chairs to many countries in Central & South America.  Our partner Rotary Club is the Rotary Club of Gingoog, Philippines in District 3870.  It is the responsibility of this club to provide funds for receiving the chairs at the dock in Manila, transportation for the chairs to the distribution sites, coordinating & select-ing the recipients, and hosting the distributing per-sons.  There is a great deal of preplanning on both sides of the world to make this work and months of work and tons of emails exchange hands.  We were fortunate to have the help of two American Rotarians living in Gingoog, Ed Velarde & Luke Tynan, which helped Phil & Bob a whole lot.

The beginning of the distribution ceremony.

The beginning of the distribution ceremony.

Most of us traveled from San Francisco on March 7.  Our first 2 days was supposed to be spent on the island of Virac visiting the water project completed by District 5220.  Alas, for most of us this it was not to be as we arrived only after a hectic trip to the domestic terminal to find that our flight was closed and we were not going to Virac at all because there was not another flight until Friday!   However, the Ari-ans, Nazs, Dr. Simjee, & Dr. Muslim had arrived on a different flight and were on their way to Virac so we were represented.  Disappointed we transferred to the Remington Hotel which was recommended by the So-rianos for 2 extra nights in Manila.  We arranged with a local Past District Governor to send the school and craft supplies and medical equipment we had brought to Virac.  Disappointed we decided to make the most of our unplanned visit and went to the Oceanarium for the afternoon.  We learned a lot about the sea life and fresh water fish of the islands and got acclimated to the very humid and hot weather.  We learned quickly that you do not measure travel by distance but by the time it takes to get someplace.  For instance, the aquarium was approximately 8 kilometers from our hotel but the travel time was 40-45 minutes.

Back to the airport and we are finally united with our entire group and off to our destination of Gingoog City, Mindanao Island.  Of course, our flight was delayed.  Cebu Pacific was not our favorite airline at this point.  We were greeted with a large banner and very happy Rotarians who were waiting for us!  Pictures were taken and we board-ed vans for the 35 kilometer drive or 1 ½ hour drive to Gingoog City which was to be our home for the next 6 nights.  There is no language barrier as English is taught to all and there are several Americans in the local Rotary club.  There is a designated national dialect but there are 70-80 regional dialects so English is actually the language that most use when conversing with people from other areas.  Our first stop is at the City Building for a reception hosted by the Mayor Marie.  We are served snacks and welcomed by the officials and more Rotarians.  From there we are whisked away to a welcome dinner hosted by the Gingoog Bay Rotary Club which is composed mostly of women.  It is very festive and they are delighted we have arrived.  Our first meal and we are served a whole roasted pig.  We are very impressed.   After dinner and welcoming speeches we are whisked to our hotel which is circa 1950’s but very clean and air conditioned.

Medina Mayor Ken Nino T. Uyguangco welcome banner.

Medina Mayor Ken Nino T. Uyguangco welcome banner.

The next morning we board our vans to go to the warehouse where 260 wheelchairs are stored.  Twenty chairs were shipped to a city 4 hours away for distribution later in our visit.  We are going to assemble all 260 chairs this morning. We have never assembled the chairs prior to the distribution before so a new experience.  The Rotary Clubs have enlisted the help of 30 young, good looking Army and Police cadets to help with assembling.  Nathan has arranged for a compressor to air the tires as these chairs have bicycle tires!   It is very hot & humid for us but very soon the chairs are being assembled and arranged by size in the room next door.  By noon we have completed the project and 3 truckloads of chairs are on their way to the distribution sites.  A quick lunch and we are off to do what we are here for give away the chairs.

A group of 15 go to Magsaysay for distribution which is on one side of the island.  There are greeted by a town celebration when they arrive.  Social Services and the Gingoog Bay Club have done a great job of organizing the distribution.  Each chair has a small stuffed toy in it.  Many of the people have never been in this situation and are quite nervous so the animals give them a little security.  The animals are donated by the Mountain Bear Service.  The rest of us go to Talisayan where we are greeted by the Mayor of that community and a huge party.  Here we see the very real need and reaffirm the reason we are here.   There are a number of amputees which are carried in by families.  The children who have never been able to walk now will have an opportunity to go places.  They arrive by bus, motorcycle, tricycles (a homemade contraption powered by a bicycle or scooter) or by foot being carried by a family member.  There is much ceremony and we are very honored guests.    We help put the patients in the chairs, give instructions on how to use the chair, and watch the smiles and the tears of appreciation.  We hear the stories of those who have been bed ridden for years, the blind child who has been carried everywhere as he has no use of his legs as well.  This is why we are here!   The families cannot believe that their dream for mobility for their loved ones has been received.  From the distribution we are taken to a lovely beach restaurant where we are hosted by the local government dignitaries.  There have been very few tourists or outside aid groups in this area so they are very appreciative.   Our Rotary hosts are also very happy.   We are learning how much effort they have put into this as they have never have done this before and they have done a great job.

Kya adding stuffed animals to the wheelchairs.

Kya adding stuffed animals to the wheelchairs.

Our next distribution is in Medina which is a small town nearby.  Again, the festivities and the smiles and tears of the happy recipients are testimony to the gift of mobility.  We are entertained again at a beautiful beach with a great lunch.    We meet most of the local political officials as this is election year.  The mayors seem very young to us and we learn that this is the first step on the political ladder for most.  We do a lot of hands on and provide a good look at Americans for these people.   They learn we are real people not just the politicians they see on TV.

We have a free day and we are treated to a visit to Tiklas Falls.  This is just one of many water falls in the area.  We then visit a public school and especially, the Special Ed classes.   There is much need and it is amazing how much these teachers do with so little.  Again, we have had a very busy day.   We have entertainment tonight at a local college where the students have prepared a program of the music and dance of the islands through the years.  We have our first experience with a “brown out” and we are quickly taken back to our hotel.  The electrical system is very old and overworked so we are told that often power is out for anywhere from a few minutes to a day.  They are also concerned about terrorists striking their power grid.  We have security everywhere we go and we feel very safe.

Today is our largest distribution in Gingoog City.  We are going to give away 85 chairs today.  We are in a gymnasium much like the one at Madera High.  Again the Mayor arrives and then the distribution begins.  Chairs are assigned and checked to make sure they are the right size.  Again the animals are a bright spot.  I forgot to mention that we had lap quilts which members of the Madera Quilt Guild provided for some of the recipients.  This one goes very smoothly.  We all have our assigned duties and also help where needed and of course, have lots of pictures taken.  It is hard for us to imagine what it must be like to be deprived of mobility because there are no funds to provide chairs.

Our final distribution is in a small town about an hour from Cagyon de Oro which is a 4 hour bus ride for us but well worth the visit. Here we meet the Governor of this island.  We are very impressed.  He appears to be very concerned and hands on with the people and they love him.  He serves as our translator because it is a very different dialect and it seems many do not speak English.  These people are extremely poor and very needy but so very happy!

We leave the island of Mindanao with a happy heart!


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