Rotarians raise cash for wheelchairs for Mexico

By RENEE FRANCOEUR Advocate staff The Rotary clubs of Red Deer Centennial, Red Deer East and Sylvan Lake have raised $30,000 in just the past few weeks to go towards the donation of wheelchairs in Huatulco, Mexico, for February 2013.

Neil Swensrude

Neil Swensrude

By RENEE FRANCOEUR

Advocate staff

The Rotary clubs of Red Deer Centennial, Red Deer East and Sylvan Lake have raised $30,000 in just the past few weeks to go towards the donation of wheelchairs in Huatulco, Mexico, for February 2013.

The clubs are partners in the Rotary in Motion Wheelchair Distribution project, which raises money for the Canadian Wheelchair Foundation.

The foundation travels across the world to deliver mobility into the lives of those who have no means to acquire a wheelchair.

“I’ve seen these wheelchairs directly impact people’s lives,” said Christiana Flessner, executive director of the Canadian Wheelchair Foundation.

“For example, when you give a wheelchair to a young man who has a spinal cord injury, he can then get to work and earn a living and his children can go to school. So there is a large trickle-down effect.”

For every wheelchair they deliver, the lives of 10 others are also positively impacted, added Flessner.

Cheques from the clubs were presented to Flessner at a Rotary meeting and luncheon on Tuesday.

They plan to have $12,000 more by the end of June, said Neil Swensrude, a member of the Rotary Club of Red Deer East and a co-chair for the project.

A total of $42,000 is needed to purchase 280 new wheelchairs to fill a sea container to Huatulco. That marks each chair at $150 but the retail value of those chairs in Canada is closer to $600 each, noted Flessner.

According to the foundation, it’s believed that more than 100 million people across the globe need a wheelchair but cannot afford one.

By next year, the local Rotary in Motion Wheelchair Distribution will have donated a total of 2,314 wheelchairs across the globe, from Belize to Ukraine to the Philippines.

The partnership began in 2003, with the first wheelchair delivery going to Huatulco.

Ten years later, a handful of Rotarian members will be going back to Huatulco to donate more.

Scott McDermott a member and former president of the Rotary Club of Sylvan Lake, journeyed to Mexico in 2003 and later to Belize with the Canadian Wheelchair Foundation and plans to go back to Huatulco next year.

“I think as a Rotarian, you want to find something you can do to make the world a better place,” he said.

A great thing about the project, he noted, is that 100 per cent of the funds raised go to the wheelchairs.

Rotarians who travel to locations to distribute them pay for their own flights and accommodations.

The project also has a personal connection to McDermott, who spent six weeks in bed after a gymnastics accident that crushed his back in 1984.

“It really hit me that I could have been in a wheelchair and I wasn’t . . . I was so grateful and I thought, ‘OK, I want to do something for those who are,’ ” he said.

For more information on the project, contact Swensrude at 403-346-5235.

rfrancoeur@bprda.wpengine.com