Out of Fort Dodge, a mobility makeover

How rich do you have to be to move down the street?

In developing countries, many people with disabilities can’t afford the equipment that would give them basic mobility. The volunteers at First Presbyterian’s wheelchair shop give their time repairing wheelchairs which are sent to the world’s poorest countries.

Dale Daggy helped organize the wheelchair ministry, and has had the opportunity to travel abroad to meet the recipients.

“They can’t afford anything. They are so poor it’s unbelievable,” said Daggy, of Fort Dodge.

He looked over an old photograph of himself next to two boys in new wheelchairs.

“These two kids right here lived six blocks from school,” he said. “Their moms carried them to school, in Quito, Ecuador, and they’d go back after school and pick them up.”

The shop is connected with Hope Haven International Ministries, a Rock Valley-based organization with nine wheelchair shops throughout the Midwest and two overseas. It was founded in 1994, and has shipped more than 100,000 wheelchairs as of March 2013.

At the local shop, the workers are all volunteers from different denominations. They meet three days a week and build sports wheelchairs, which have a slight tilt to the back wheels.

Roy Dillon, working on one of the larger chairs, said sports wheelchairs are highly prized.

“I just put the anti-tip on it, so it won’t tip over,” Dillon said. “People are going to be playing basketball, bowling, archery or whatever with them.”

The used wheelchairs and parts come from all over the United States and Canada, Daggy said. Hope Haven arranges all the shipping and determines where finished chairs will be sent.

Back wheels and tires hang on the wall, and high cabinets hold seat backs, cloth, front castor wheels, and other assorted parts. Volunteers have to find the right brand and size of replacement parts to put the wheelchairs back together.

They replace seats, clean bearings, and sometimes have to replace the hand rim on the back wheels.

“That is a big deal,” Daggy said. “So many we get are all beat up. You have to take these all apart, take the tire off, take this back and paint it, and put it back.”

Gene Black does any welding the group needs out at his farm near Barnum. He also refurbishes the wheel bearings.

“I take them out to the farm, soak them and blow them out. When I bring them back here, I make sure the bearing’s okay,” Black said. “If it spins good, everything passes inspection, I’ll put it together like this, and I’ve got a greaser.”

Black simply gravitated to this role because someone needed to do it.

“You find your niche. I wanted to keep the dirt and that out of the shop,” he said. “With all that grease and all that, it’s a mess, so if I can blow that out in the country it gives us a cleaner workplace here.

He has been doing it since the local shop started up in 2004.

“Because I saw the need,” he said.

It takes a volunteer between one day and two to three weeks to completely make over a chair, depending on what condition it starts in and how many hours per week they choose to work. The shop finished 192 chairs last year, and has completed 1,207 since its first year.

No prior experience is necessary.

“We’ll find a job for you regardless,” Daggy said.

“I’m a classic example of not needing to know anything about mechanics,” said Greg Olson. “My wife says that I’m a lot better around the house now that I’ve been here. I’ve learned.”