Bringing Mobility to Those Who Need It Local Company Partners with Wheels for the World ™ Program
National Seating and Mobility, through its Franklin branch, recently donated specialty wheelchairs to Joni & Friends’ Wheels for the World ™ Program, which collects and refurbishes wheelchairs for those who need them in developing countries.
By J.D. O’Gara
Recently, the Franklin-based branch of National Seating and Mobility took steps to improve the lives of strangers around the world. The company, which provides complex rehabilitation equipment, partnered with Wheels for the World, a subset of the Joni & Friends ministry, to donate specialized wheelchairs to those who need them.
Wheels for the World™ Program provides life-changing mobility for people in developing countries who are excluded from their communities. Through the ministry, used wheelchairs are collected across the United States, refurbished and delivered to people with disabilities in developing nations where wheelchairs are scarce or financially out of reach.
“Our relationship with National Seating and Mobility is very special, because when we distribute overseas, the need for specialty chairs is great,” says Maria DeGenova, Program Manager for Joni & Friends. “We’ll take any manual chair, but it’s really unique to have a partner where everything that’s coming in is specialty chairs.”
Joni and Friends was founded by Joni Earackson Tada, who herself became quadriplegic after a diving accident in 1967. The California-based organization is dedicated to meeting the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of people impacted by disability around the globe.
“Joni traveled overseas and saw a need for those who don’t have mobility,” says DeGenova. “Wheels for the World is one of the branches of the ministry. We collect used wheelchairs all over the country. Nothing goes to waste, and we partner with prisons around the U.S.” Volunteers in a volunteer work programs at the prisons take apart, clean and restore the wheelchairs, making them like new. “It’s a second chance for the prisoners as well. They’re learning a trade and getting a chance at redemption with opportunity to do good work.”
“It’s a meaningful partnership,” says Jennifer Gibbons, LicSW, General Manager of the Franklin, Mass. branch of National Seating and Mobility, which provides complex rehabilitation equipment. “It will provide another journey for these chairs to help others who are less fortunate.”
National Seating and Mobility provides specialized, fit and measured chairs customized by assistive technology professionals to work with a client’s mobility needs, living arrangements, family support and other day-to-day needs. On occasion, however, client conditions change before they are delivered, that render the chair unusable for the client.
“When this happens, we need to get them a chair that works for them but need to find a place for the old chair,” says Gibbons. November’s donation was the second the Franklin branch has made.
“I love the whole idea of the chairs being rehabilitated at local prisons,” says Amy O’Brien
Marketing Development manager at of National Seating and Mobility. “It’s an opportunity to turn something around in their personal life and learn a trade. I think it’s a nice way to give back.”
Refurbished wheelchairs are loaded onto ocean containers by volunteers. “We have partnerships all over the world,” says DeGenova. “Each office partners with a different country.” The destination for the wheelchairs donated by National Seating and Mobility will go to Thailand. Once overseas, Wheels for the World™ volunteers work alongside local physical therapists and churches to provide outreach in the community.
“My first outreach was a 14-year-old boy, ‘Pan,’ who was being carried by his grandmother. The mechanic and therapist worked for six hours on his pediatric chair, made some adjustments and showed the grandmother how she could adjust the chair,” says DeGenova. “When we put him in that chair, that was the first time he was able to look eye-to-eye with someone. All his life he’d been looking up. We were not only able to meet his physical needs, but also emotional and spiritual needs.”
Every wheelchair, says DeGenova, opens the door to give hope and independence for the entire family.
“In some of the countries we go, there is shame associated, (a belief that) someone with a disability did something wrong to deserve that disability, and so it’s hidden,” says DeGenova, “But we believe God has a plan for that person, and he makes no mistakes. We’re able to share with people that they have an incredible purpose, and they have value.”
This year, Wheels for the World™ has collected over 1,000 wheelchairs, “a record for us,” says DeGenova.
In addition to Wheels for the World ™, Joni & Friends also provides practical care and hope through life-affirming programs and resources for special needs families, churches and communities.
In fact, Daniel Rivera, a chair corps volunteer who helped receive the Franklin donation, says his family has personally benefitted from the camp. He and his wife have three sons, aged 20, 10 and 7, the older two with significant disabilities and special needs.
“The church I belong to here in Cranston, Hope Church, surprised us the year the pandemic hit, asking us if we wanted to be sponsored by them to go to a Joni & Friends retreat in New England. We had never taken a family vacation.” After participating in the program, Rivera says, “We absolutely fell in love with Joni & Friends, and we became a part of it.”
March is wheelchair collection month. Wheels for the world accepts donations of the following mobility devices, with tax-deductible receipts available:
• Manual wheelchairs, all types and sizes
• Aluminum walkers, crutches, and canes
• Wheelchair footrests
• Other wheelchair parts and trays
• Wheelchair seat cushions
• New crutch and armpit pads, hand grips, and foot tips
If you have an unused wheelchair you would like to donate, visit https://www.joniandfriends.org/support-us/donate-a-wheelchair/#drop-off to find a local drop-off.