By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Discarded wheelchairs get new life
chair top
A Rotarian assists a teen boy with his wheelchair fitting. - photo by PHOTOS CONTRIBUTED

That wheelchair gathering dust in your garage or that you are thinking of junking can turn around lives.

Thanks to a non-profit in Modesto  dubbed Hope Haven West some 1,000 handicapped youth and adults mostly in Latin American countries are given the gift of mobility each year.

Hope Haven West founder Lonny Davis said the chance to see how one wheelchair can change the lives of multiple people “is truly amazing.”

He recalled helping fit a wheelchair for one 14-year-old girl on a trip to Central America. Her mother carried her to the location where volunteers — mostly from the Northern San Joaquin Valley — had brought a shipment of 200 new and refurbished wheelchairs  to match up and adjust with 50 individuals a day for four days.

“The mom had been carrying her daughter around all of her life,” Davis said.

After an hour or so of making the chair fit to the teen’s needs, Davis said she was beaming.

“You could just see the dignity flow into the young lady’s face, Davis said. “Mom was totally set free as she would no longer have to carry her daughter all of the time.”

Davis noted the daughter had grown to be the same size of her mom.

Hope Haven volunteers collect used and discarded wheelchairs to make the endeavor work.

“They are the chairs that would end up in our landfills,” Davis said. “So it is helping us (in California) be green.

The wheelchairs are refurbished by inmates at several different prisons throughout the West. They are then distributed to disabled children and adults in developing countries. They also distribute newly manufactured pediatric wheel chairs.

A host organization — often a local Rotary Club  — submits detailed information on 200 individuals who need wheelchairs.

Volunteer teams — who pay all their own expenses — travel to the receiving country to provide seating clinics. The clinics include appropriate seating options, and are supervised and directed by professional seating specialists.

The distributions are focused primarily in South and Central America and Mexico.

Davis said the resiliency of the handicapped continue to amaze him.

He told Manteca Rotarian gathered Thursday at Ernie’s restaurant of one young boy who had no hands or feet.

“I asked the specialist what wheelchair we were going to use for him,” Davis recalled. “I didn’t think anything would work. (The specialist) said the sports wheelchair.”

It is the type of chair used by handicapped athletes to play basketball, compete in races and do other such activities.

Within a half hour of being fitted, Davis said the boy was in the parking lot doing wheelies.

Davis noted the World Health Organization estimates there are 20 million people worldwide that are handicapped and lacked mobility.

“What we are doing is a drop in the bucket but it makes a big difference in the lives of the people we help” Davis said.

The 501(c)(3) non-profit maintains an 18,590-square-foot warehouse in Modesto where they are currently 2,000 wheelchairs stored.

Davis said they accept all types of wheelchairs including those that are electric.

When asked how they are recharged given the remoteness of many locations where they distribute the chairs, Davis said volunteers assisting with the program in  host countries have become creative.

He noted I Guatemala one gentleman keeps track of 180 power chairs by a global positioning system so he can be alerted when they need to be charged and makes arrangements to make that happen.

The Manteca Historical Museum is accepting chair donations for Hope Haven West at the museum at 600 W. Yosemite Avenue. They are open Tuesday and Wednesday 1 to 3 p.m., Thursday and Sunday 1 to 4 p.m.

Hope Haven West is a 100% non-profit model. They don’t pay salaries or any kind of administrative expenses. All administrative and fund raising costs are paid by private benefactors.

That means every dollar donated goes directly into providing functional wheelchairs.

Hope Haven West is located at 1878 E. Hatch Road in Modesto. Davis can be reached at 209.402.7900 while program coordinator Liz Hosmer can be reached at 209.485.4553.

More information is available at