When 74-year-old veteran Tony’s power wheelchair wore out, hindering his freedom, he searched everywhere for help covering the $10,000 price of a new one.
After exhausting all options from insurance to local services, he discovered Alternatives in Motion, a nonprofit providing donated mobility equipment to those in financial need. The only problem: Alternatives in Motion is in Grand Rapids, Michigan, over 1,000 miles away from his home at an assisted living facility in Okemah, Oklahoma.
For 40 years, Tony played piano on the Las Vegas strip every night. Now, he suffers from conditions which leave him in constant pain and make it impossible for him to lift his arms or stand on his right leg. This means he can’t use a manual wheelchair and must rely on the battery life of a power chair for independence.
A bus wreck a few years ago caused Tony’s expensive power chair to fall on top of him, leaving the chair unusable and Tony in even more pain. His only option became a cheap, scooter-like power chair, which, Tony said, “is really for a lady. I’m 40 pounds over the limit. I’ve just been using it for three years because it was all I could afford.”
His quest for a better option lead him to the nonprofit in West Michigan. “I was searching for anything I could find after being rejected so broadly,” he said.
Despite Tony’s distance, Coleen Davis, Executive Director, decided to help when she realized someone had donated the exact power chair he needed. The last hurdle became the shipping price.
According to Davis, Alternatives in Motion often gets requests from around the country. “There are no other communities that offer the program we have in West Michigan,” she explained. Unfortunately, as a nonprofit completely reliant on equipment and financial donations, they can’t afford to help the entire nation. “We see there’s a greater need,” she said, “we just don’t have the means to address it.”
Because of this, she said, “It’s not normally our practice” to offer assistance to those so far away. “Tony was a special case. He served our country and he exhausted all the resources he had in his community.”
Realizing Toyota had labeled May “Mobility Awareness Month,” Davis called the Jim Norton Toyota in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and explained the situation, asking if they would pay the shipping. They gladly obliged.
With his new, donated chair, Tony can once again enjoy the independence and quality of life brought by having the ability to move around on his own.
He is excited to use it not only to roam his place of residence, but to escape and visit the post office and library. “I’ll be forever grateful for them for doing that, otherwise I would just sit here and look at the wall,” he said.
Tony’s story has a happy ending. But, with the lack of widespread resources like Alternatives in Motion, many people in similar situations are left with no chair, no freedom, and nowhere to turn.
Since starting at Alternatives in Motion in 2006, I have had the opportunity to give wheelchairs to over 620 individuals and families. The first time you give someone the gift of mobility is an experience that sticks with you. However, like too many things in life, it is easy to get into a routine and forget just how precious this gift truly is.
Nothing snaps our staff and board back to this important reality more than a gift of support from one of our wheelchair recipients. For many of our recipients, “just getting by” is an understatement. Many are unable to work and rely on a fixed monthly income. When food prices or rent goes up paying the bills becomes even more challenging.
So when a recipient appreciates our services enough to scrape up a few extra dollars, their kindness does not go unnoticed. We have received checks from recipients for $5.00 with the words “Thank You” written in the memo line.
One recipient in Northern MI loyally sends a donation check every few months. This individual, who asked us to not use her name or picture, lives on a small farm and received a power wheelchair from her insurance company. Unfortunately the chair she qualified for was not durable enough for her to continue her daily activities of raising her chickens and working in the garden. We provided a rugged power wheelchair so she is able to get around her property and take care of her farm. She even purchased a cow this spring and sent pictures of her new friend with her last donation check. My wife and I had the opportunity to stop and visit this individual on one of our weekend trips up north. She was so thankful and appreciative of the chair that she proudly took us on a tour of the farm. She even sent us home with a dozen eggs and some zucchini from her garden, harvested fresh that morning of course.
Having been to her home and listening to her story for a few hours, it was clear that she was indeed “just getting by.” That’s why I was so surprised when we received the first donation check from her. Then a second, a third, a fourth, and now in just over two years she has made 15 donations!
Opening a donation check from a wheelchair recipient is no doubt the most rewarding part of this job. Many times these donations are small. They aren’t going to pay the rent bill or even pay to fill up the tank of our delivery van. That doesn’t matter though, these donations are priceless!
Watching charity come full circle is a heartwarming experience. These donations inspire us to share our story, to help more people, and most importantly remind us to never take our own mobility and independence for granted. Thank you to everyone who has helped us Move People Forward over the years. We couldn’t do it without our loyal donors and supporters!
Greetings and Happy July!
It’s hard to believe the first half of 2013 is already behind us. So far this year we have provided mobility assistance 64 times. We have placed 36 pieces of mobility equipment valued at $140,495, and have assisted 57 individuals and families. We have also accepted $177,488 worth of in-kind mobility equipment donations. WOW!
Over the last six months our staff and Board of Directors have been working together to strengthen the mission of Alternatives in Motion in an effort to create long-term sustainability. We are excited to share more with you as we look to better use our website, blog, and social media outlets. (Bear with us as we try to keep up with the ever changing demands of e-marketing & social networking)
We remain focused on providing mobility and independence and I am proud of our small staff (2 people) and Board of Directors (9 Volunteers) for working together to build a strong future for this organization. Most importantly, we are extremely grateful for the generous donors that support our mission with their hard-earned donation dollars and gifts of mobility equipment. It is because of this generosity we can proudly say we have provided mobility assistance over 1,254 times since 1995!
The remainder of 2013 is going to be busy as we gear up for the 10th Annual Metro Health Grand Rapids Marathon on October 20 and the 2nd Annual A.I.M. High Endurance Awards on November 7. These are two of our largest annual fundraising events and we encourage everyone to participate. Stay tuned as we will highlight these events, and share ways to get involved, in future posts.
Thank you to our past, present, and future donors. With your support we are changing lives and promoting independence!
Interim Executive Director
July 26, 2012
Yesterday Mark VanTongeren from Michigan Adventure Racing stopped by the office to give Alternatives in Motion a $600 donation. This donation was made possible by the proceeds from the Hurt The Dirt trail run that took place on June 16th at Seidman Park in Ada, Mi.
Alternatives in Motion has a long history of working with endurance events as a charity partner. We love these types of events because they teach people the importance of being active and they promote healthy lifestyles. Mark and his crew are the organizers of other successful events like The Zombie Dash and the GR Urban Adventure Race, all of which contribute to local charities in some way. Be sure to visit their website at miadventureracing.com and sign up for one of their upcoming events.
We’d like to say thanks to Mark for this donation and for the opportunity to participate in this great event. Special thanks to our friends Don Kern, Francine Robinson, George & Gail Ranville, Nancy Willemstein, Mary Kamsickas, Jamie Crosby, Erika Chapman, and Kurt Spieker for volunteering at Hurt The Dirt on behalf of Alternatives in Motion.
Together we are Moving People Forward!
Director of Marketing & Special