Monday, January 30, 2006

THE WHEELCHAIR FOUNDATION : A Truly Inspirational Story

According to its web site, the Wheelchair Foundation delivers Hope, Mobility and Freedom. The Wheelchair Foundation is a nonprofit organization that is leading an international effort to create awareness of the needs and abilities of people with physical disabilities. They also seek to promote the joy of giving, create global friendship, and to deliver a wheelchair to every child, teen and adult in the world who needs one, but cannot afford one. It's a pretty big mission, but this organization seems to be up to the task.

Founded by Kenneth E. Behring, the Wheelchair Foundation is just one more philanthropic effort in the life of this remarkable man who has for many years sought to improve the lives of disadvantaged people around the world.

Ken was a successful automobile dealer in Wisconsin, Ken and then entered the world of real estate development in the 1960's. During the next 35 years, through his companies he created numerous planned communities in Florida and California.

In 1988 he purchased the Seattle Seahawks football team and after that Ken established the Seattle Seahawks Charitable Foundation. The Seattle Seahawks Charitable Foundation benefited numerous children's charities and it was the most substantial donor to the Western Washington Muscular Dystrophy Association for many years.

Ken Behring also founded the Blackhawk Museum and the Behring-Hofmann Educational Institute in Blackhawk, California in the East Bay region (close to where he had created the world-renowned Blackhawk, development near San Francisco). In 1997, Ken pledged $20 million to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, and in 2000 he pledged an additional $80 million to rebuild the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. So, it is not difficult to understand that we are talking about someone with a sense of responsibility and generosity.

For years Ken had of donated food, medical supplies, clothing, toys and educational materials as he traveled around the world. It was his personal mission to help those in need, and his first-hand involvement in helping others has given him a realistic picture of how much help is needed worldwide.

In 1999 Ken donated shipments of wheelchairs to relief organizations in Eastern Europe and Africa. Through these projects he gained a greater understanding of how much hope and happiness can be given to a person who receives a wheelchair. Soon after that, he traveled the world delivering wheelchairs to numerous countries. On June 13, 2000 the Wheelchair Foundation was established at a ceremony in Washington, DC.

The Wheelchair Foundation distributes wheelchairs through an established network of non-governmental or other organizations that have ongoing missions in the country of destination. These organizations must be qualified to identify recipients, and certified to import humanitarian aid duty free. They must also take full responsibility for the importation, transportation, and proper distribution of the wheelchairs, and then return photographs to the Wheelchair Foundation of each wheelchair recipient, using the numbered placards and single use cameras that we supply. These photographs are then used to create the "presentation folders" that are sent to Wheelchair Foundation donors.

According to the Wheelchair Foundation, "If all of the criteria listed above are met by an organization in a specific country, then the country is considered by the Wheelchair Foundation to be one with an established and successful distribution relationship. Absolutely no political, ethnic or religious affiliations are considered when evaluating any region of the world for the distribution of wheelchairs."

Since its founding in June 2000, the Wheelchair Foundation have continually worked to develop successful distribution relationships throughout the world. They admit that they have "been forced to remove some countries from the list" of those with an established and successful distribution relationship with the Foundation. But they say that they continue to work for new or better relationships that will allow them to serve more parts of the world under their established program.

Recently the Wheelchair Foundation has amended its policy and now, all wheelchairs delivered to "developed" countries require a sponsorship of $150 each. But the amount required to sponsor wheelchairs to "developing" countries will remain at $75 per wheelchair. For each $75 (or $150 for chairs to developed countries) donated, the Wheelchair Foundation will combine that with funds provided specifically for that purpose and deliver a wheelchair to a child, teen or adult without mobility.

The Wheelchair Foundation donates wheelchairs all over the world, but I am only going to list the countries in Africa that receive these chairs. For a full and complete list, Please visit the Wheelchair Foundation's web site.

Central Africa
Central African Republic

Northern Africa
Western Sahara

Southern Africa
South Africa

Dominican Republic
Puerto Rico
Saint Lucia (UK)
Trinidad & Tobago
Virgin Islands (US)

As Saint Lucia is a territory of the UK, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are territories of the US, they are considered "developed countries" and $150 are required to donate wheel chairs to these locations.

The Wheelchair Foundation has many contributors and Sponsors, and some of them are listed below. But I would like to first draw attention the fact that since March of 2001 Rotary Clubs worldwide have sponsored over 100,000 wheelchairs to over 100 countries.

Rotary Clubs and Rotarians

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

The Oakland Athletics

Smithsonian Magazine


Crystal Cathedral Ministries

Samaritan's Purse

Knights of Columbus


Major League Baseball

Scott's Seafood Restaurant

Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation

The Auto Collections

Ronald McDonald House Charities

Ascension Philoptochos of the Oakland Cathedral

That's it; I have to wrap up. But you will be missing a really inspirational experience if you do not visit the web site of The Wheelchair Foundation .

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