East Bay foundation gives the gift of mobility

March 15, 2010 5:46:48 PM PDT
A wheelchair can mean the difference between being bed-ridden or leading a productive life. But in many parts of the world, cost keeps them out of the hands of people who need them. One East Bay charity is hoping to make a difference two wheels at a time.

On the island of San Pedro in Belize, artist Kurt Jason Cruz was attacked in 2006. It left him completely paralyzed.

"I got stabbed in my lower back and neck and was paralyzed for four months and I couldn't even move from neck down," he said.

He has regained some mobility, and can now get around thanks to the Danville-based Wheelchair Foundation. The non-profit has given away hundreds of thousands of wheelchairs over the past decade to people in need all over the world. The idea began with developer Ken Behring. Now his sons have taken up the cause.

"The most important thing is to be able to give personally," said Jeff Behring.

The Behrings organize trips around the world so donors can hand over the wheelchairs in person.

"I think year after year the people that have gone on our wheelchair missions in the past always want to repeat themselves, so we're getting a larger and larger number of people who want to go with us and personally participate and put people in wheelchairs and give them the gift of mobility," said Jeff Behring.

"When you see the smiles and tears -- I get very emotional," said David Behring. "When somebody starts crying out of joy, I usually end up breaking down with the family."

The Wheelchair Foundation buys specially designed wheelchairs in China for about $150.

"They don't have the money and the resources," said David Behring. "Many of these people make less than a thousand dollars a year, and in these countries a wheelchair can cost anywhere from $400 to $700."

Volunteers say seeing the joy in the eyes of those who get a wheelchair is like no experience they have ever had.

"All of a sudden when you put them in a wheelchair you can feel that, you can feel the change, you feel the desire to live and wanting to be and embracing life and do things and it's just an amazing thing to experience, but it's an amazing thing to feel," said volunteer Glenn Perry.

The Wheelchair Foundation is now trying to raise money for 2,000 wheelchairs to send to the devastated regions of Haiti. Every $75 donation is matched and improves the life of one person.

For more information on how you can help, visit wheelchairfoundation.org.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel


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